Porth Nanven to Nanquidno circular walk

Porth Nanven to Nanquidno

A circular walk from the Cot Valley past the beaches of Nanquidno and Porth Nanven where granite boulders polished over millions of years by prehistoric oceans and then buried by the soil are being exposed once again by the sea.

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The walk follows the granite cliffs from Porth Nanven to Nanquidno beach, both covered in boulders smoothed by a prehistoric ocean and lost beneath the soil when sea levels fell. The return route is across the fields to the top of the Cot Valley.

Considerations

  • Route includes paths close to unfenced cliff edges.

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Vital statistics

  • OS Explorer: 102
  • Distance: 3.8 miles/6.1 km
  • Steepness grade: Moderate
  • Recommended footwear: Walking boots, or shoes in summer

OS maps for this walk

OS Explorer 102 OS Explorer 102 (laminated version)

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

Highlights

  • Granite boulders at Porth Nanven and Nanquidno sculpted by a prehistoric ocean
  • Views over Whitsand Bay to Sennen Cove and Land's End
  • Wildlife including choughs and peregrine falcons

Directions

  1. Follow the path from the granite post across the footbridge over the stream. Then keep left and follow the path upwards to reach an area of flat rock where the path joins an inland path

    The area of the Atlantic between North Cornwall and Ireland is also known as the Celtic Sea - a name first suggested in the 1920s. The newfangled name has caught on more in academic and surveying circles. The public generally use "Atlantic" where "the bit of it near here" is automatically implied.

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  2. When you reach the area of flat rock at the top of the climb, continue ahead to follow the path along the coast and reach a granite waymark on a rock outcrop.

    Lizards are cold-blooded so they need to bask in the sun to warm up to their "operating temperature" which is around 30 Celcius. They usually do so with an area of cover nearby which forms an escape route from predators. You're therefore likely to encounter them in sunny spots on footpaths and footbridges. Once they spot you, they will usually make a hasty escape - they can move pretty quickly once they are warmed-up. During winter they hibernate as in cold temperatures they are too slow to catch any food (insects, spiders etc. which are also less numerous over the winter).

    Stonechats are robin-sized birds with a black head and orange breast that are common along the Cornish coast all year round.

    During the summer months, stonechats eat invertebrates. As temperatures drop and there are not so many of these about, they make do with seeds and fruit such as blackberries. Quite a few die in cold winters but this is offset by their fast breeding rate during the warmer months.

    Vertical holes leading into a mine are known as shafts whereas horizontal tunnels are known as adits. Adits were created both as a way to get into the mine (a portal adit) and also to drain water out of the mine from the tunnels above the adit. Tunnels deeper than this needed some sort of pumping mechanism to raise water up to the drainage adit.

  3. Keep right at the waymark to follow the coast path and continue to reach a wooden waymark.

    Choughs sometimes nest along this stretch of 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.

  4. Follow the coast path around the sharp bend to the left at the waymark and continue uphill to a granite waymark.

    The name "chough" is from the bird's call although this is not that accurate as "chough" is more like the sound a jackdaw makes (a very short "chu"). Locally, choughs were known as "chaws" which is a better representation of their (much longer) sound.

    The old Cornish name for the bird is Palores, meaning digger, which is thought to be a description of it rooting for invertebrates.

    The scientific name (Pyrrhocorax pyrrhocorax) means "fire crow" which is likely to be an allusion to its red bill and legs. This possibly also relates to the birds' mischievous reputation during the Tudor and Elizabethan periods for stealing lighted candles or embers and dropping these onto roofs, which were generally thatched in Cornwall at this time.

  5. Turn right at the waymark and follow the path to a junction of paths at the top of the cliff with a National Trust sign for Letcha.

    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. The plant was known in Cornwall during Victorian times as "green sauce".

    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 is poisonous if enough is consumed and prolonged exposure can cause kidney stones. So use sorrel reasonably sparingly and don't eat it every day.

  6. Bear right to follow the path along the coast. Continue to reach a granite waymark where another path joins, beside a gap in a wall.

    In 1851, the ship "New Commercial" ran aground in a storm on the reef of The Brisons and was wrecked. The crew managed to climb onto the rocks but six of these were swept off the rocks by the huge waves. Of the three remaining, one managed with great skill and courage to build a makeshift raft from the wreckage and paddle this into Whitesand Bay where he was rescued by local fishermen. The remaining two on the rocks were the captain and his wife, who couldn't swim and was wearing only a nightdress. They remained there for two days until a rescue boat reached them and fired a rocket line. Both were rescued but the captain's wife - Mary Sanderson - sadly died of exposure in the rescue boat before she could be brought ashore, and is buried in Sennen churchyard. As a result of the tragedy, the Sennen lifeboat was established.

  7. Keep right through the gap in the wall and follow the path. Continue through a kissing gate and up the rough stone steps to reach the top of the next headland.

    The Longships Lighthouse is located just over a mile off Land's End on the highest of the islets known as Carn Bras. The original tower built in 1795 was 40ft high, perched on the 39ft high rock but despite the lantern being nearly 80ft above the sea, it was sometimes obscured by the huge waves off Lands End. A new taller tower was therefore constructed starting in 1869 and completed in 1873 and was manned until 1988. The current lantern emits a white flash seaward, but red-tinted glass colours the light for any vessel straying to the headlands to the north or south.

  8. From the top of the rock outcrop, continue along the coast over the next hill and bear right slightly as you descend towards the walled mineshafts. Pass these on your right to reach a kissing gate.

    The granite outcrops on the headlands give rise to names beginning carn which means "rock outcrop" in Cornish. The outcrop you climb up to is Carn Polpry (Polpry is the name of the cove). As you descend, the rock outcrop beside the walled mineshafts has a name with a less obvious origin - Carn Ding Dong.

    The rocks provide a holdfast for lichens.

    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.

  9. Go through the gate and follow the path down the valley to a footbridge.

    The beach is known either as Nanquidno or Nanjulian beach. There are some grassy areas just above the rocky beach which make good picnic spots. According to some sources, the beach is reported as being sometimes popular with naturists. Given that the beach consists entirely of granite boulders, this seems unlikely to be comfortable, especially in strong sunshine when the rocks can get rather hot.

  10. Cross the two footbridges and then turn immediately left to follow the path alongside the stream. Follow this up a few steps to pass a wheelpit and continue to where it merges with another path. Keep following the path inland until it ends on a track.

    The simplest design for a waterwheel is known as an undershot wheel where the paddles are simply dipped into flowing water. This works well in large rivers where there is a strong current.

    However, in hilly areas with smaller streams (such as Cornwall), the overshot design is more common where the water is delivered via a man-made channel (leat) to the top of the wheel where it flows into buckets on the wheel, turning the wheel through the weight of the water. An overshot design also allowed the mill to be located slightly further away from the main river which had obvious advantages during floods.

  11. Turn right onto the track and follow it until it joins a lane at Nanjulian Farm.

    The settlement of Nanjulian was recorded in 1428 as Nanshelen and is thought to be from the Cornish word elin meaning "elbow", as well as the word for "valley". The name perhaps refers to the bend in the course of the river and its associated valley near Nanjulian Mill where it turns to meet the sea.

  12. Follow the lane ahead until you reach the driveway to Gurland Farm with public footpaths either side of the lane.

    The settlement of Nanquidno was first recorded in 1327 as Nansgwynyou. The name is based on the Cornish words nans (valley) and gwynn (white).

  13. Turn left at the footpath sign and follow the track uphill to a pedestrian gate before the track reaches a farm gate.

    In the field on the right are the remains of a prehistoric settlement from the Bronze Age or Iron Age. Not much is now left - just a few earth banks and hut circles.

    The low stone walls remaining as hut circles were once the foundations of a round house. The granite foundations were likely to have been set into cob (mud and straw) walls which provided insulation and draft exclusion over bare-stone walls. A conical thatched roof on a timber frame rested on top of the walls. Heating was via a central fire which required some care with the thatched roof - presumably roof fires were not unheard of! These buildings varied in size from a just over a metre in diameter up to 10 metres. Some had walled enclosures attached and a few also had internal partitions.

  14. Go through the pedestrian gate and cross the field to the open gateway ahead (to the right of the barns). If in winter this is too muddy to pass through, there is a gate onto the lane in the right wall of the field - you can turn left onto the lane to pick the walk up after the next direction.

    Despite the proximity to a prehistoric settlement, the rocket-shaped standing stone in the centre of the field is much more likely to be a cattle rubbing stone erected in the 19th century. There are a number of these in West Cornwall. In particular, near Lamorna Cove, there is a group of fields with one in the centre of each.

  15. Go through the gateway and continue straight ahead to cross the field diagonally to the gate in the corner.
  16. Cross the stone stile to the left of the gate and turn left onto the lane. Follow the lane until you reach a public footpath sign beside a waymarked stone stile on the right.

    Granite mostly contains slightly acidic chemical compounds, and consequently there is nothing to neutralise acids arising from plant decay and carbon dioxide dissolved in rainwater, resulting in acidic moorland soils.

  17. Cross the stile and continue straight ahead across the corner of the field to a stone stile in the right-hand hedge.

    The stink from decaying cabbages is due to sulphur compounds which it stores in its leaves, ready for the production of seeds later on. The compounds are also more concentrated in the plant if it has been deprived of water. These compounds are also released from the plant when leaves are boiled - the longer it's cooked, the more cabbage smell. The silver lining is that it's thought that the smelly compounds may possibly have anti-cancer properties. Whilst that's being researched a bit more, blanching or braising cabbage is a less smelly way to cook it.

  18. Cross the stile and turn left. Follow along the left hedge to reach a stile in the corner of the field.

    The efficiency of the chemical processes that plants use to metabolise nitrogen compounds varies with pH (acidity). In soils that are too acidic, many plants have trouble absorbing nitrogen (apart from specially-adapted ones known as "ericaceous"). The ongoing decomposition of plant matter into humus within the soil creates acidic compounds. Some soils contain rocks such as chalk and limestone which will react with the acid and neutralise it. In Cornwall, the beach sand includes a high proportion of seashell fragments which contain the same chemical compound as limestone.

  19. Cross the stile and follow the left hedge of the field to a stone stile.

    Blackberries are closely related to raspberries and technically neither is a berry but an aggregate of many individual tiny fruits, each containing a tiny stone like a miniature cherry.

    The growth rhythm of brambles is so steady that it can be used in forensics to work out how long remains have been at a crime scene.

  20. Cross the stile, and the one after it, then follow the right hedge of the field to a waymarked stile in the far hedge.

    Since prehistoric times, a year of fallow was used to allow soil nutrients to recover before planting a crop the following year. By the end of the Middle Ages, a three-year scheme was in use with alternating crops allowing production two out of three years. In the 18th Century a four-crop rotation was introduced (wheat, turnips, barley, and clover) which not only resulted in continuous production but included a grazing crop and a winter fodder crop, providing food for livestock throughout the year. Crops used in the rotation had different nutrient demands, giving the soil chance to recover. In particular, bean crops and clover impart nitrogen into the soil and are therefore a key part of modern rotation schemes. As well as balancing the use of soil nutrients between years, by staggering the rotation in adjacent fields, the spread of pests and diseases is reduced.

  21. Cross the stile and follow the right hedge to a gap in the far hedge.

    In spring, some of the fields here are sometimes planted with daffodils as part of the crop rotation. Even in years they are not planted, a few stray ones often grow amongst the crops.

    Growing daffodils has been an important industry in Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly for over a century. When the Great Western Railway reached Cornwall, this provided a means to export perishable goods such as fresh flowers and fish which previously would not have survived the long journey by boat or horse and cart. Out of respect for the dead, coffins were transported by the railway for free. It was therefore not unheard of for coffins filled with daffodils to arrive in London from Cornwall.

    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.

  22. Continue through the gap, initially along the right hedge, and then straight ahead to reach a stone stile in the hedge ahead.

    The stile you pass in the right hedge is for a path leading to Kelynack.

    In English we often add a -y ending to a noun to turn it into an adjective; for example "rock" becomes "rocky". For many of the nouns imported from French, we add "-ic" (acidic, magnetic, artistic...). The equivalent in Cornish is to add -ack or -ek to the end of the word. Thus meynek is "stony" (men is stone), stennack means "tinny" (sten is tin).

    Kelynn is the Cornish word for holly which means that kelynnek is ... harder to express succinctly in English ("abounding in holly" or possibly "holly-tastic").

  23. Cross the stile and continue straight ahead across the field to a stone stile in the hedge opposite.

    The settlement to the left is called Hendra.

    Hendra is a common Cornish place name meaning "home farm" (from the Cornish word hendre which itself is based on the words hen meaning old, and dre is equivalent to tre). Hendra was also used as a boy's first name with the meaning literally "from the family farm".

  24. Cross the stile and turn left. Follow along the wall to the corner, turn right away from the gateway to keep following along the left hedge to reach a stone stile.

    The red campion produces a blaze of pink flowers along hedgerows in the spring with the most intense flowering period occurring between late April and the end of June. A scattering of flowers continue throughout the rest of the summer. In the mild Cornish climate, a few plants can often be seen flowering during winter months.

  25. Cross the stile and bear right to a gap in the hedge to the right of the gateway.

    The word crow is from the Old English crawe. Since this sounds a lot like the noise the bird makes, there is a misconception that the Old English is directly derived from this. In fact the word is far older. It's related the the Old Saxon kraia and can be traced back further to a Proto-Indo-European word from the late Neolithic period which is thought to mean "to call hoarsely".

  26. Cross the cattle-grid-like stile in the gap in the hedge and cross the field to a waymark beside the telegraph pole in the bottom-left corner of the field.

    The mounds along the far hedge of the field are associated with mine workings here. About 5 mineshafts have been identified although not much is known about them. They are marked as "old shafts" on the 2nd Edition OS map from the early 1900s. A small tin mine known as Kelynack Mine was known to be in operation in this area in 1901 with an adit down in the valley to drain the mine.

  27. Cross the stile beside the waymark and follow the path until it emerges down some steps onto a lane.

    Navelwort is a member of the stonecrop family which are able to survive in barren locations by storing water in their fleshy leaves. In dry conditions, the plant takes emergency measures to conserve water, producing fewer green chloroplasts (so it goes red) and loses it succulent fleshiness. Leaves with red tinges are therefore not the ones to forage.

  28. Turn left onto the lane to reach a waymark and then cross the stile on the right beside it. Bear left down the field to a gap in the hedge ahead.
  29. Go through the gap and bear left to the gap on the left side of the fence. Go down the steps, through the kissing gate and bear left to the stile beside the telegraph pole.

    Even up to the 16th Century, magpies were simply known as "pies" from the Old French word pie (related to the Latin word for magpie - pica). The term "pied" meaning "black-and-white" (as in pied wagtail) is from the magpie's colouration. It's also possible that the pastry thing we now know as a pie (which can be traced back to Mediaeval Latin) was named after the magpie. It has been speculated that the assortment of ingredients in the pastry crust was likened to objects collected in a magpie nest. The "mag" in the modern name is a (somewhat sexist) mediaeval slang word for someone who chatters, based on the name Margaret.

  30. Cross the stile and bear right to cross the field diagonally to a stile in the top corner.

    The name "buttercup" is thought to have come from a mediaeval belief that cows eating the flowers gave butter its yellow colour. In fact this couldn't be further from the truth as the plant contains toxins which make it taste acrid and is therefore avoided by grazing animals.

    Unlike many birds that just sing in spring, robins sing nearly all year round. In fact during winter if you hear birdsong, it's most likely to be a robin. Despite how cute robins look, they are actually very territorial and the chirp is an aggressive warning to any would-be intruders not to even think of trying it. When robins don't sing, this a sign that their body fat reserves are low and they are conserving what little they have left until food becomes more plentiful.

  31. Cross the stile and follow the left hedge to reach a pedestrian gate leading to a stone stile.
  32. Go through the gate, cross the stile and turn left to follow the path downhill between the walls to a junction of paths after a standing stone.

    During late winter or early spring, if you encounter a patch of plants with white bell-shaped flowers, smelling strongly of onions, and with long, narrow leaves then they are likely to be three-cornered leeks. Once you're familiar with their narrow, ridged leaves, you'll be able to spot these emerging from late October onwards.

    Three-cornered leeks are native to the Mediterranean and are first recorded as being introduced to the UK in 1759. By Victorian times, they had become well-established in the wild. They thrive in the moist, mild climate in Cornwall and are salt-tolerant so will grow almost anywhere, even on the coast.

    Although nearly all foxgloves are purple, a fairly rare white form does occur and an even more rare pink form sometimes occurs along with this.

    There are over 30,000 miles (more than the distance around the earth) of hedges in Cornwall, many of which are based on distinctive local styles of stone walling. Consequently, often what a Cornish person calls a "hedge", most people from outside the county do not recognise as a hedge, resulting in some foreign translation needed for walk directions.

    Around 50% of the hedgerows in the UK have been lost since the Second World War. Although intentional removal has dramatically reduced, lack of maintenance and damage from mechanical cutting techniques such as flailing are still causing deterioration of the remaining hedgerows.

    Some Cornish hedges are thought to be more than 4,000 years old, making them some of the oldest human-built structures in the world that have been in continuous use for their original purpose. They act as vital miniature nature reserves and wildlife corridors that link together other green spaces. This supports hundreds of species of plants and tens of thousands of insect species, many of which are vital pollinators for arable crops.

  33. Bear right and follow the path until it emerges onto a lane.

    Gunnera looks like giant rhubarb but the leaves stems are spiky. It tends to favour damp places as quite a lot of water is needed to supply its huge leaves.

    The plant has a symbiotic relationship with cyanobacteria which live between its cells. The cyanobacteria, also known as "blue-green algae", are photosynthetic and also supply the host plant with nitrogen which allows it to colonise poor soils.

  34. Turn left onto the lane and follow this back to Porth Nanven.

    Porth Nanven is also known as "Dinosaur Egg Beach" due to the ovoid granite boulders. The boulders were smoothed into this shape by the sea when sea levels were much higher and then trapped on the land when sea levels dropped, becoming buried under the topsoil. The sea has slowly eroded the land and freed the trapped boulders which you can see embedded in the cliffs behind the beach. Souvenir collecting was causing depletion of the smaller boulders so they are now protected; removing them is an offence which would result in a criminal record.

    More about Porth Nanven

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