Porthcurno, Pedn Vounder and Penberth Cove circular walk

Porthcurno to Penberth Cove

A circular walk with spectacular coastal scenery from Porthcurno to Penberth Cove, passing the famous wobbling boulder of Logan Rock and returning via the escape route from the wartime tunnels which housed one of the world's largest telegraph stations.

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The route follows the Coast Path to the WW2 bunker overlooking Porthcurno and then follows clifftop paths overlooking Pedn Vounder beach to rejoin the Coast Path near Treryn Dinas. After the hillfort, the route follows the coast path to Penberth Cove. The route follows a footpath up the valley from the cove to Treen and then returns across the fields to Porthcurno.

Considerations

  • Route includes paths close to unfenced cliff edges.

Reviews

We did that walk today and climbed up to Logan Rock. Saw ponies on the footpath too. Nice little walk - we came back via Treen as we're in the campsite there
A favourite of mine. Stunning.
We did this on new years day it was such a lovely walk with a stop on the way back at the Logan Rock pub.
Stunning location, easy to follow instructions & really interesting facts

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Vital statistics

  • OS Explorer: 102
  • Distance: 3 miles/4.9 km
  • Steepness grade: Moderate
  • Recommended footwear: Walking boots

OS maps for this walk

OS Explorer 102 OS Explorer 102 (laminated version)

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

Highlights

  • Sandy beaches at Porthcurno and Pedn Vounder
  • Spectacular views across the bay
  • Treryn Dinas Iron Age Hillfort
  • The infamous Logan Rock
  • Pretty fishing port of Penberth Cove
  • Wildlife including seals, birds of prey and choughs
  • Telegraph museum at Porthcurno

Pubs on or near the route

  • The Logan Rock Inn

Directions

  1. Make your way to the gate at the bottom of the car park marked "Emergency Vehicle Access" and follow the path starting beside the information board near the toilets towards the beach to reach a junction of paths with a granite boulder with an "access to beach" sign.

    From 1870 to 1970, Porthcurno valley was a hub of international communications and, for a time between the First and Second World Wars, was the largest submarine cable station in the world. Up to two million words per day could be transmitted using up to 14 cables. It was chosen over Falmouth to reduce the risk of damage to cables by shipping. Even today, fibre-optic cables land at Porthcurno, connecting the UK to the internet backbone.

  2. Take the leftmost path past the granite boulders and up the headland to reach a fork in the path at the top, near a WW2 bunker.

    In common with most of the other beaches around Penwith, the sand at Porthcurno is composed of fragments of seashell. Larger pieces of shell, and some intact shells, are usually washed up along the high-tide line. These mostly seem to be venus clams which are very pale in colour and may explain the particularly white sand around this coast. Another factor is that, unlike the slate in much of the rest of Cornwall, the granite here does not weather into minute flakes which mix into the sand and darken the colour.

  3. When you reach the fork, turn left and follow the path to join the coast path at a waymark next to some boulders and a Porthcurno sign.

    Tides in the Atlantic are closely aligned with the moon's position above the Earth which takes just under 25 hours on average to return to the same position; this is slightly more than 24, as the Earth has to chase the moon's orbit. The tides therefore "slip" by at just under an hour each day so that over a 7 day week, low tide and high tide have approximately changed places (e.g. no beach in the afternoon vs a huge beach in the afternoon).

  4. When you reach the Porthcurno sign, cross onto the coast path and turn right. Keep ahead at a waymarked junction and continue through some WW2 defences until you reach a fork in the path.

    During the Second World War, about 28,000 concrete fortifications were built across England and around 6,500 of these still survive. The hexagonal blockhouses known as "pillboxes" are assumed by many to have been named after similarly-shaped containers for medical pills. However, commentary on early models during the First World War suggests the origin of the name is actually from "pillar box", based on the slots for machine guns resembling a postbox.

  5. At the fork, turn right and follow the path to a large white stone pyramid.

    The white pyramid on the cliffs between Porthcurno and Logan Rock marks the place where, in 1880, the first submarine telegraph cable connected Britain to France and a transatlantic cable between France and Canada. However the pyramid has not been erected for sentimental reasons: there was once a communications hut where the cable came ashore which was quickly adopted by shipping as a navigational aid. When the hut was demolished, something needed to replace it as a navigational marker - hence the white pyramid.

  6. Follow the path from the pyramid to the next large rock outcrop where a small path leads down the cliff.

    A few different factors all combine to vary the colour of the sea:

    A glass in your hand might lure you into thinking otherwise, but pure water is faintly blue. The main wavelengths that the chemical bonds in water absorb are either in the infra-red or ultra-violet, and not in the visible spectrum, which is why a glass of pure water does not look coloured. However one fairly obscure harmonic of the vibrations in the water molecule corresponds to the wavelength of red light and so water very weakly absorbs the red from white light, giving it a very slightly blue tinge. If there is enough water, both the blue tinge and reflection of blue light by any suspended particles make it look blue.

    Another factor is that the surface of the ocean acts as a mirror and reflects the colour of the sky and this is why it may appear grey under a cloudy sky. Under a blue sky, this intensifies the blueness.

    In shallow water, the sand which is golden in Cornwall due to fragments of seashell, reflects yellow light and this combines with the blue from seawater to generate colours from green to turquoise. The ocean also sometimes appears green due to the presence of planktonic plant life.

    The Cornish language has a word glas (often appearing in place names as "glaze") which is the Swiss Army Knife of sea colour descriptions. It means blue, or green, or grey.

  7. Keep left to stay on the cliff-top path and follow it until it rejoins the coast path at a junction of paths by a stone bench.

    The beach at Pedn Vounder is virtually covered at high tide, but at low tide, particularly on a spring tide, a large, sandy beach is revealed. It is often lumped with Porthcurno in tourist literature as it's the more photogenic of the two beaches due to its shallow sandbanks. On a low spring tide it's sometimes possible to walk along the beach from Porthcurno, but for the rest of the time, access is down a fairly steep path from the Coast Path which ends in an awkward climb on all fours down the rocks onto the beach. The beach consists of sand bars which cause some areas to flood faster than others when the tide comes in, so risk being caught by the tide. Until it was heavily promoted on social media, it was fairly deserted due to the difficult path and was used by naturists. Some do still use it, which can surprise visitors. The name of the beach is the Cornish for "end of the lane".

  8. At the junction, turn right and follow the rightmost path along the coast to a small gate.

    Logan Rock is balanced on the top of the outcrop on the headland ahead.

    Logan Rock is a granite boulder of about 90 tons, originally known as Men Omborth (meaning "balanced stone"), and is the most famous of all the rocking stones in Cornwall. This is in part due to an account in "Antiquities of Cornwall" from 1754 which stated: "it is morally impossible that any lever, or indeed force, however applied in a mechanical way, can remove it from its present situation." This challenge proved too much of a temptation for the Victorians and in 1824, Lieutenant Hugh Goldsmith and ten or twelve of his crew of the cutter HMS Nimble, armed with bars and levers, rocked the huge granite boulder until it fell from its cliff-top perch. There was a local outcry and the Admiralty ordered that the rock was put back. This required the help of more than sixty men with block and tackle, but the Logan Rock was finally repositioned and returned to "rocking condition", although it is said that it does not rock as easily as it did originally. It is still possible for one adult to cause it to rock but some knowledge of where to apply the force is required.

    More about Logan Rock

  9. Go through the gate and follow the path until the path merges with the inland path at one granite waymark post. Then continue to another granite marker post at the end of a wall, with the entrance to Treryn Dinas Iron Age Castle ahead.

    A number of large rocking stones exist around Cornwall and are invariably given the name Logan Rock or Logan Stone. These are formed by weathering, where a horizontal crack is eroded away leaving a rounded boulder balanced on a block of granite. The word "logan" (pronounced "logg-un") is thought to be derived from the Cornish dialect word "log", meaning "to rock like a drunken man".

  10. The walk continues to the left, but first you may want to have a quick look at Treryn Dinas. Once back on the route, follow the path alongside the ramparts and over a stream to reach a gate.

    Treryn Dinas is a clifftop fort dating from the Iron Age. It consists of a huge outer earth bank which is several metres high in places. Inside this is a large flat area that once might have been settled. Beyond this are a series of banks and ditches before the narrowest point in the headland, where there is a final ditch and stone-fronted rampart. The reason for the inner ramparts is not well understood. It could have been a more fortified position to retreat to if the outer defences had been breached, but the inhospitable rock outcrop would not have been somewhere that a siege could have been withstood for long. Some historians have suggested that the smaller ramparts around the inner area could have been non-military, for example to separate off a ceremonial area from "the rabble".

  11. Go through the gate and follow the path over the headland to reach a gate just above Penberth Cove.

    In 2007, a 17th Century shipwreck was discovered in the English Channel, roughly 40 miles off Mount's Bay. The gold and silver coins salvaged from the wreck were valued at half a billion US dollars, making it possibly the highest financial value of any shipwreck yet discovered. The wreck lies just outside UK territorial waters, and so the US-based salvage company was able to claim the find for themselves.

  12. Go through the gate and follow the path to the bottom. The route continues at the bottom to the left, along the track up the valley to reach the white cottage. You may want to have a look at Penberth Cove before continuing.

    Penberth Cove was documented in 1580 as Porth Penbyrthe. Many elements of the fishery visible today date back to the 18th century which is one of the reasons it was selected as one of the main filming locations for the BBC's Poldark series. The capstan dates from the 19th Century and was used to winch boats up the beach before the electric winch was installed in the 1960s.

  13. When you reach the white cottage, follow all the way along the right-hand side to join a path up the valley and follow this to reach a fork.

    Three-cornered leeks grow alongside the path here.

    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.

    All plants in the onion family including three-cornered leeks are poisonous to dogs. Keep dogs away from the plant and wash their paws if they come into contact with it.

    Flowering plants have evolved a complex double-fertilisation process where one sperm fertilises the egg whilst a second sperm combines with other nuclei in the cell to create a nutrient-rich tissue. This gives the seed a head start so it can out-compete others (e.g. conifers which don't have this). This also allows flowering plants to produce viable seeds more quickly: whilst conifers take around 18 months to produce a new batch of seeds, many flowering plants produce a batch of seeds each year and some can produce seeds more than once a year.

  14. Turn left at the fork and follow the path through the woods, keeping right when the path passes between two stone walls, to reach a stile into a field.

    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.

  15. Cross the stile and follow the right hedge of the field to a stile.

    The fields here are sometimes used for crops such as brassicas.

    Brassicas such as cabbage and cauliflower do best on soils which are well-drained and not acidic. For this reason they are often grown in sandy soils by the coast where fragments of seashell in the soil both improve drainage and act as a natural source of lime. Further inland, artificial sources of lime may be required to increase the pH of the soil. In the past, beach sand was transported inland for this purpose.

  16. Cross the stile and initially follow the left hedge then as you approach the corner, head to a gateway in the far hedge with a granite gatepost, roughly 20 metres along.

    The number of cows in Cornwall has been estimated at around 75,000 (a lot of moo is needed for the cheese and clotted cream produced in Cornwall) so there's a good chance of encountering some in grassy fields, but also on open moorland and sometimes for conservation grazing on the coast path too.

    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.

    Do

    • 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).

    Don't

    • 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 gateway and follow the wall on the left to a stile roughly half-way along, marked with a granite waymark post.

    The standing stone in the field is likely to have been erected as a cattle rubbing stone.

    In pre-industrial times, cattle were allowed to roam over quite large areas and could therefore find a suitable tree to relieve an itch. In the Victorian period, farming became more intensive and cattle were moved into enclosed fields. It was quickly discovered that an itchy cow could wreak havoc with walls and fences so dedicated rubbing stones were positioned in the centre of some fields to minimise cow damage. In some cases, new stones were quarried specifically for the purpose and others, existing prehistoric standing stones or even Celtic crosses were unceremoniously re-used.

  18. Cross the stile and turn right. Follow the path along the wall to reach a gate.

    Electric fences are typically powered from a low voltage source such as a car battery which charges a capacitor to release a periodic pulse of high voltage electricity. This is often audible as a quiet "crack" which is a good indicator that a fence is powered. As with the high-voltage shock caused by static electricity, the current is not high enough to cause serious injury but touching an electric fence is nevertheless unpleasant. If you are answering the call of nature in the vicinity of an electric fence, be mindful of the conductivity of electrolyte solutions!

  19. Turn left at the gate to stay in the field and follow the path between the fences to reach a stile.

    The settlement across the field on the right is Treen.

    The settlement of Treen between Porthcurno and Penberth Cove is first recorded in 1321 when it was spelt "Trethyn". It is thought to have been Tredyn originally, with a meaning along the lines of "castle farm". This explains why there is also another settlement now called Treen near the Iron Age cliff castle on Gurnard's Head, near Zennor. Arranging to meet at the inn in Treen could therefore be problematic, as both have a pub although these, fortunately, do have different names.

  20. Cross the stile and follow the path to emerge onto a track and follow this to reach a lane.

    In the early 20th Century, a Roman denarius coin was found in Treen, between Porthcurno and Penberth Cove, suggesting there may have been some Roman occupation of the area. There have also been finds of Roman artefacts at the Trereen Dinas cliff castle: there are records from Tudor times of a brass pot full of Roman coins being found, and a Roman brooch was found in 2006.

  21. Follow the lane ahead past the postbox to reach a public footpath sign.

    The red telephone box was the result of a competition in 1924 to design a more aesthetically-pleasing telephone kiosk that would be acceptable to the London Metropolitan Boroughs who weren't impressed by the Post Office's first 1921 model made from concrete. Three subsequent versions were used mostly in London. The final design was created in 1935 to commemorate the jubilee of George V and was deployed widely across the country.

    The bright red telephone box was initially not well-received and the Post Office was forced to use an alternative colour scheme (grey with red glazing bars) for areas of natural beauty. Ironically, many of the telephone boxes preserved in these areas have since been painted - the now iconic - red.

  22. Turn left at the footpath sign and follow the rightmost track around the left side of Houses Farm and alongside a barn to a gateway next to a flight of stone steps.

    The Logan Rock Inn is short distance up the lane to the right.

    The Inn dates back to the 16th Century and until late Victorian times there was an old maypole outside the inn that is thought might have dated back as far as early mediaeval times.

  23. Climb the steps next to the gate (or go through the gate if open) and follow the left hedge along the length of the field to a gateway in the far hedge.

    The number of cows in Cornwall has been estimated at around 75,000 (a lot of moo is needed for the cheese and clotted cream produced in Cornwall) so there's a good chance of encountering some in grassy fields, but also on open moorland and sometimes for conservation grazing on the coast path too.

    Scientists have found that cows tend to lie down when the weather is cool but stand up when it's hot to improve air circulation and regulate their body temperature. The folklore about cows lying down being a sign of rain might well be due to the cold fronts causing precipitation being reflected in the "cow thermometer". Cows also lie down to sleep but they only sleep for about 4 hours a day.

  24. Go through the gateway and follow the left hedge to the gateway opposite.

    Some historical objects have been found in these fields including 16th Century pottery and a 14th Century heraldic pendant made of copper.

  25. Go through the gateway and continue ahead to a gate and stile in the far hedge.

    The standing stone is not recorded as significant so is likely to be another cattle rubbing stone.

  26. Cross the stile on the left of the gate and continue ahead to a waymarked stile to the left of the gate ahead. Cross this and continue ahead to a kissing gate in the hedge opposite.
  27. Go through the gate and cross the stile then turn right. Follow along the right hedge and around the corner of the field to reach a stile just before the gate.

    If you are crossing a field in which there are horses:

    • Do not approach horses if they have foals, make loud noises nor walk between a foal and its mother as you may provoke the mother to defend her young. Generally the best plan is to walk along the hedges.
    • Horses will often approach you as they are used to human contact. If horses approach you, do not run away as this will encourage them to chase you. If you are uncomfortable with their proximity, calmly walk away.
    • Do not feed the horses with sweets or otherwise. Some food which is harmless to humans can be deadly to horses.
    • If you have a dog, keep it under close control in a visible but safe place, and as still and quiet as possible.
  28. Cross the stile, or go through the gate if open, and turn left. Follow the track to a gateway with an old waymarked stile alongside.

    Trendrennen was first recorded as a manor in 1313, spelt very similarly as Trendrenen. The name is thought to come from the Cornish word for thorn bushes - dreyn. A number of cupped stones have been found built into the farm buildings and these are thought to be evidence that a settlement existed here in Roman times.

  29. Go through the gate and cross the field to a waymarked stone stile beside a telegraph pole in the middle of the hedge opposite.

    About half the starlings in the UK are year-round residents. From October until spring, these are joined by a migrant population from Eastern Europe where the winter temperatures are much colder.

  30. Climb the stile and bear right slightly across the field towards the nearest buildings to an opening in the opposite hedge.

    If the fields are ploughed just before the spring, the low light from the winter sun picks out the threads of gossamer which can carpet the fields here.

    Young spiders disperse by spinning several threads of silk which catch the wind and carry them away. The process is known as "ballooning" or "kiting" and the extremely thin strands of silk are known as gossamer. These very fine strands don't break in the wind because the silk is tougher than kevlar. Normally the spiders only travel a few metres in one "ride" but sailors far out to sea have reported spiders landing on their sails.

    The word "gossamer" comes from a Middle English word gosesomer (literally "goose summer") which referred to late autumn when geese were at their best for eating. The same time of the year was when large numbers of cobwebs were most common so the name got applied to this too where it survived.

    The folklore about magpies collecting shiny objects has been shown to be an incorrect myth. A scientific study found that magpies are actually scared of shiny objects and actively avoid them.

  31. Follow the path leaving the field to reach a waymarked gateway.
  32. Continue on the path downhill through the gateway and follow the path until it emerges onto a driveway.
  33. Turn left onto the driveway and follow it to the museum.

    During the Second World War, Cornish miners dug a series of tunnels to create an underground bomb-proof and gas-proof building, housing all the telegraph operations at Porthcurno. This also included a secret escape tunnel leading to a concealed entrance in a field. In total, 15,000 tons of rock were excavated and an office space was created in the excavated area complete with a pitched roof to shed seepage, a suspended ceiling and plastered walls. Porthcurno is ranked alongside Bletchley Park as one of the 6 key sites that were instrumental in ending WW2.

    Known as "The Tunnels", the dry space at constant temperature proved to be the perfect environment for the sensitive telegraphy equipment and so operations stayed there after the war and the equipment continued to be upgraded until the 1970s. It now forms part of the Porthcurno Museum of Global Communications and houses the main museum displays.

  34. Turn right down the steps at the front of the museum and follow the path to return to the car park and complete the circular route.

    Some of the largest specimens of the greater weever have been caught by anglers at Porthcurno. However, these rarely come into shallow water. Their cousin, the lesser weever is sometimes found on Cornish beaches during the summer.

    During hot weather, weever fish migrate to Britain from the Mediterranean. They bury themselves in the sand where they are camouflaged, and ambush small fish in shallow water. To protect against predators, they have spines that inject a nerve toxin; if trodden on, this can be very painful. It's therefore a good idea either to wear some form of footwear in the sea or to shuffle your feet through the sand which is more likely to scare away any fish. If you are unlucky enough to tread on a weever, get your foot into hot water as soon as possible as this denatures the venom. Most lifeguards have a kettle on standby (and although its primary purpose might be cups of tea rather than weever stings, they will forego a cuppa in the interests of pain relief).

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