Porthgwarra to Minack circular walk

Porthgwarra to Minack

A circular walk to the Minack Theatre, via St Levan's church, St Leven's Holy Well and Porthchapel beach, from Porthgwarra where the beach is accessed via a rock tunnel created by local miners.

Get the app to guide you around the walk

Phone showing walk for purchase
Download the (free) app then use it to purchase this walk.
Phone showing Google navigation to start of walk
The app will direct you to the start of the walk via satnav.
Hand holding a phone showing the iWalk Cornwall app
The app guides you around the walk using GPS, removing any worries about getting lost.
Phone showing walk directions page in the iWalk Cornwall app
The walk route is described with detailed, regularly-updated, hand-written directions.
Person looking a directions on phone
Each time there is a new direction to follow, the app will beep to remind you, and will warn you if you go off-route.
Phone showing walk map page in the iWalk Cornwall app
A map shows the route, where you are at all times and even which way you are facing.
Phone showing facts section in iWalk Cornwall app
Each walk is packed with information about the history and nature along the route, from over a decade of research than spans more than 3,000 topics.
Person looking at phone with cliff scenery in background
Once a walk is downloaded, the app doesn't need wifi or a phone signal during the walk.
Phone showing walk stats in the iWalk Cornwall app
The app counts down distance to the next direction and estimates time remaining based on your personal walking speed.
Person repairing footpath sign
We keep the directions continually updated for changes to the paths/landmarks - the price for a walk includes ongoing free updates.
The walk starts at Porthgwarra and crosses the fields to St Leven's Church to reach Rospletha and then reaches the coast at the Minack Theatre with spectacular views over Porthcurno and Pedn Vounder. The coast path then forms the route via Porth Chapel and St Levan's Holy Well to Porthgwarra.

Considerations

  • On the descent to Porthgwarra, the coast path passes over some large boulders.
  • Route includes paths close to unfenced cliff edges.

Buy walk

Sign in to buy this walk.

This walk is in your basket. Proceed to your basket to complete your purchase.

My Basket Remove from basket

You own this walk.

An error occurred while checking the availability of this walk:

Please retry reloading the page. If this problem persists, please contact us for assistance.

Reload page

Vital statistics

  • OS Explorer: 102
  • Distance: 3.1 miles/5 km
  • Steepness grade: Moderate
  • Recommended footwear: Walking boots in winter. Walking shoes or trainers 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

  • Sandy beaches at Porthchapel and Porthgwarra
  • Spectacular coastal scenery
  • Views of the Runnelstone buoy, Wolf Rock + Longships lighthouses and the Isles of Scilly
  • Wildflowers in late spring and early summer
  • Wildlife including seals, birds of prey and choughs
  • Ancient relics including St Levan's well, chapel and stone.

Directions

  1. Make your way out of the car park. You can either start with a visit to the beach first or do this at the end of the walk. Follow the lane past the café. Continue on the lane away from the sea a short distance further to where a small path departs to the right just before the cottages, after the trees and before the bushes.

    The beach at Porthgwarra is privately-owned but well-behaved members of the public are permitted access. The tunnel to the beach was dug by miners from St Just to provide easier access for fishermen to the beach and so farmers could transport sand and seaweed from the beach by horse and cart to fertilise the fields. The cove is quite sheltered between the headlands, but swimming beyond the headlands is inadvisable as there are extremely strong currents here where the English Channel meets the Atlantic.

  2. Bear right onto the small path and follow this uphill until it eventually ends on a grassy track.

    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.

  3. Turn left onto the track and follow this to where it becomes tarmacked.

    Postboxes are a Victorian invention. The first pillar boxes were erected in the 1850s and by 1857, the first roadside wall boxes were in place. Early postboxes were green and it wasn't until 1874 that some in London were painted red. Over the next 10 years this was applied elsewhere. Postboxes are initialled with the reigning monarch at the time which allows them to be approximately dated. For example Edward 7th (marked as E VII) was only on the throne for 10 years so these date from the 1900s before the First World War.

  4. Continue ahead on the tarmacked track until it ends at a lane.

    To the left there is a view of the Runnel Stone markers and coastguard lookout on Gwennap Head.

    The pair of cones on Gwennap Head are daytime navigation markers, erected in 1821, indicating the position of the Runnel Stone. The innermost marker is painted black and white and when this is completely obscured by the outer red cone, the observing ship would be directly on top of the Runnel Stone. The objective is therefore always to be able to see the black and white marker.

    The coastguard station on Gwennap Head was built at the start of the 20th Century and was in service by 1910. When a French fishing boat was wrecked at the foot of the cliffs, it was realised this was invisible from the one-storey station so the second storey was added. Due to cost-cutting in the Coastguard service, the station was closed in 1994. Shortly after this, it was taken over by the National Coastwatch Institute and reopened in 1996.

  5. Turn right onto the lane. Follow for half a mile until you reach a road narrows sign, pass around a bend and reach a stone stile on the right marked with a public footpath sign (just beside the back of the corresponding road narrows sign).

    The Longships Lighthouse at Land's End can be seen in the distance on the left.

    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.

  6. Cross the stile and follow along the right hedge to a gateway on the far side of the field.

    Both navelwort's Latin name and common name are based on its resemblance to a belly button. Other common names include wall pennywort and penny pies due to the shape and size resembling an (old) penny.

  7. Go through the gateway into the field on the right-hand side. Follow along the left hedge then cross the field to the gap opposite.

    In fields with crops where the footpath doesn't run along the edge, if there is a well-trodden path then follow this to avoid trampling any more of the crops. If there appears to be no path through the crops then you do have a right to walk through the crop but stick as close as possible to the line of the path to avoid damaging any more of the crop than strictly necessary. Alternatively, you can follow around the edges of the field to avoid trudging though the crop.

  8. Go through the gap and cross the field towards the church tower to reach a stone stile.

    The granite rocks here result in naturally quite acidic soils.

    In the 1800s, using turnips in a crop rotation was a popular means of enriching the nitrogen content of the soil. However, this crop also depletes the lime content of the soil and so the practice was less common in Cornwall than elsewhere in the country. Where turnips were grown, this could well have further fuelled the demand for lime-rich shell sand to be brought inland by horse, the railway along the Camel, or via Bude canal.

  9. Cross the stile and head straight across the field to a gateway.

    A flock of starlings and also the spectacular flight formations of the flock are both known as a "murmuration". The flocks may include other species of starling and sometimes species from other bird families. As with fish shoaling, flying in unison creates safety in numbers. The whirling, almost hypnotic display makes it hard for predators to focus to target one bird. Grouping together also offers a number of other advantages such as keeping warm at night and sharing information e.g. good sources of food.

  10. Go through the gateway and follow the right hedge to reach a stone stile in the corner of the field.

    Researchers have found a recessive gene which appears to turn normal 3-leaf clovers into the 4-leaf version. Normally this is masked by the 3-leaf gene but environmental conditions can promote the 4-leaf form. Some domestic varieties have also been selectively bred to increase the proportion of 4-leaf plants. Genetically-engineered four leaf clovers are now a possibility with some farms in the USA reportedly already using genetic modification to churn-out thousands of plastic-sealed "lucky" charms per day.

  11. Cross the stile and follow the right hedge to another stone stile in the corner of the field.

    The stiles in Cornwall that consist of rectangular bars of granite resembling a cattle grid are known as "coffen" (coffin) stiles. These often occur on footpaths leading to churches such as the Zennor Churchway. The mini cattle grids are fairly effective at containing livestock and were significantly easier for coffin-bearers to navigate than stiles crossing walls. They are more frequently found in West Cornwall but there are a few in East Cornwall such as those on either side of Advent Church.

  12. Cross the stile and bear left to a stone stile in the middle of the left hedge.

    Whilst moles look a little like mice, they are not rodents and are highly adapted to digging and living in tunnels. Using their curved claws, they can dig 15 feet of tunnel in an hour and typically extend their network by around 60 ft per day. Moles also have twice as much blood as mammals of a similar size and a special form of haemoglobin that allow them to tolerate high levels of carbon dioxide in the low-oxygen environment within their tunnels.

  13. Cross the stile and follow along the right hedge to reach a wooden stile.

    The nutritiousness of nettle leaves makes it a preferred food plant for the caterpillars of many common butterfly species including the red admiral, tortoiseshell, peacock and comma.

  14. Cross the stile and follow the path past the cottages to emerge onto a lane, opposite the church.

    The churchyard of St Levan is thought to date back to the 9th or 10th Century and an original church of wood and thatch may have been replaced by one built of stone before the Norman conquest. In the 12th Century, a stone church was built using Norman techniques and elements of this survive today, including a Norman font which dates from the beginning of the 12th Century. In the 15th Century, the building was extended and the tower was added.

  15. Cross the lane to the church and go up the steps towards the church. Turn left and follow the path to an opening into a field with a coffin rest at the top of the churchyard.

    In St Levan's churchyard, near the porch, is a large boulder in two pieces known as St Levan's stone. It is thought that the stone was originally associated with Pagan fertility rites before Christianity reached Cornwall. When the Christian church adopted it, a legend was created that St Levan broke it in two with his staff whilst making the prophecy about the end of the world:

    When with panniers astride
    A pack horse can ride
    Through St Levan stone
    The world will be done
  16. Exit the churchyard and follow the right hedge of the field to a pedestrian gate in the top hedge.

    Rabbits were originally from the Iberian peninsula and were brought to Britain by the Normans and kept in captivity as a source of meat and fur. Although grass is their principal natural food, rabbits are able to survive on virtually any vegetable matter and with relatively few predators, those that escaped multiplied into a sizeable wild population.

  17. Go through the gate and follow the grassy track across the middle of the field towards the buildings to reach a gateway.

    The stone cross at Rospletha dates from the mediaeval period and seems to be in its original position beside the footpath to the churchyard.

    There are over four hundred complete stone crosses in Cornwall and at least another two hundred fragments.

    In the mediaeval period, stone crosses were sometimes placed by the road or path to mark the route to the parish church. Farms and hamlets were usually linked to the church by the most direct and level route. Crosses were also placed along routes of pilgrimage. Both of these have evolved to become some of today's Public Rights of Way.

  18. Go through the gateway and turn right. Follow the track between the houses and out of the settlement until it ends on a road.

    At the end of the direction where you reach the road, if you'd like to take a diversion to visit Porthcurno beach, the easiest route is by going left on the road down the hill and taking the signposted path to the right just before the car park.

  19. Turn right and follow the road uphill a short distance to a junction with a welcome sign for Minack Theatre. Turn left to follow the Minack Theatre entrance road to a bend with another welcome sign for Customer Parking.

    The Minack open-air theatre was created by one remarkable woman - Rowena Cade - who financed, planned and physically built the theatre. Initially she worked as apprentice to two Cornish craftsmen to cut stone for the stage and seating, with one wheelbarrow lost over the edge of the cliff in the process. The first performance was "The Tempest" in 1932 which was lit by car batteries and headlights. From this point until her death, Rowena worked relentlessly on improving the theatre, which included carrying sand on her back from Porthcurno beach to make concrete.

  20. At the sign, join the gravel path leading parallel to the lane and follow this a short distance to a gate and stile. Cross the stile (or go through the gate if open) and follow along the wall on the left until you reach a pedestrian crossing, then cross this to the right to reach a kissing gate with a wooden footpath signpost.

    When you reach the pedestrian crossing, the path to the left leads (very steeply!) down the cliff to Porthcurno. However, just before it descends the cliff it serves as a viewpoint with impressive panoramic views over Porthcurno and Pedn Vounder.

    Just before she died in 1983, she left elaborate sketches of how the theatre might be covered when it rains. So far there have not been the funds to implement them, but maybe one day there will.

  21. Go through the gate and follow the path across the headland until you reach a junction of paths near a corner in the fence on the right.

    At the junction, a path leads to the left onto Rospletha Cliff.

    The headland of Pedn-men-an-Mere is known locally as "Wireless Point" as a 170ft mast with a large antenna was erected here in 1902 by the Eastern Telegraph Company to monitor the early activities of the potential competitor, Marconi. The antenna base and tether points are still visible on the headland. The conclusion from the monitoring was that Marconi's newfangled wireless technology was no threat to the cable telegraph companies. In fact, Marconi's shortwave wireless system turned out to be so successful that it almost bankrupted the cable companies in the 1920s.

    The smaller of the two boulders on the end of the headland is what is known locally as a "logan stone". The weight of a teenager or adult on the edge closest to the land is sufficient to make the huge boulder rock back and forth.

  22. Keep right at the first junction then immediately left at the second to follow the path towards a rock outcrop overlooking the sea. Continue following the coast path until you reach a waymark at a junction of paths with steps to the right.

    The Runnel Stone is a pinnacle reef situated roughly a mile south of Gwennap Head which is a notorious shipping hazard and was responsible for the grounding of at least 30 steamships between 1880 and 1923 alone. The reef used to break the surface at low water until 1923 when a 6,000 ton steamship called The City of Westminster, which was laden with maize from South Africa, ploughed into the reef with such force that the top 20 feet of the reef was broken off. The ship didn't fare too well either and sank, but fortunately all aboard were saved by the Sennen and Penlee lifeboats. The bow and stern of the wreck are still identifiable by divers but there is so much wreckage from other ships that it's hard to tell which is which.

  23. Turn right up the steps and follow the path over a footbridge to a junction of paths with St Levan's Well on the left.

    Porthchapel is a small cove between Porthcurno and Porthgwarra, and should not be confused with Chapel Porth which is near St Agnes. Like Porthcurno, Porthchapel is a beach of shell sand, situated between two granite headlands. Porthchapel faces south, making it a sun trap, and is a nice spot for swimming when there isn't a swell running, although it is advisable to stay within the lee of the headlands as exceptionally strong currents run along this area of the coast.

  24. At the junction, continue ahead up the steps to reach a flat rocky area at the top of the headland. Continue ahead on the coast path to reach a junction of paths with a waymark a little way along the left-hand path.

    St Levan's chapel was built on platforms cut into the cliff face and could date as far back as the 8th Century, making it one of the oldest, if not the oldest Christian building in Cornwall. It's likely that the spring forming the Holy Well predates the chapel and could have been a sacred spring in pre-Christian times. In the 18th Century, the well building still had a roof but little remained by the end of the 20th Century; the walls were partially reconstructed in 2003. Water from the well is still used for baptisms at Levan's Church. The Holy Water was thought to be a cure for toothache and eye diseases, and sleeping the night by the well was said to increase its powers. Perhaps during a freezing night in a howling gale on a cliff edge, the toothache seemed a less pressing concern!

  25. Bear left in the direction waymarked and follow the path to a line of boulders crossing the path. Climb over these and descend the rocky coast path to reach a yellow waymark at a junction of paths.

    The Cornwall Seal Group Research Trust gather information about the numbers of seals in each location to study migration behaviour. Each seal has a unique pattern of spots which is like a fingerprint, allowing individuals to be identified so photos are also very useful.

    If you see one or more seals, take a photo if possible but never approach the seals to take a photo - use a zoom from a clifftop. Send the location, date, number of seals and photos if you have them to sightings@cornwallsealgroup.co.uk.

  26. When you reach the waymark, keep left at the junction and follow the path downhill to reach a red waymark opposite a high stone wall.

    In Cornwall, cliffs erode at an average rate of between roughly 3cm - 30cm per year depending on the hardness of the rocks and location. In reality this often happens in infrequent sudden collapses rather than as a steady, gradual process. It was found that one massive storm in 2014 caused around 100 times the average amount of erosion. There are obvious implications from climate change leading to more frequent or more intense storms.

  27. Turn left at the waymark, in the direction of the red arrow, to reach a track. Follow the track past the tunnel to the beach (which you may want to visit on the way past) to a junction with a footpath signpost.

    As you come out of the tunnel on the beach, on your left is a second tunnel which leads to a neighbouring rocky cove. This provided convenient access to the "hulleys" which were built into the rocks. These were similar in principle to a "keep pot", used to store crabs and lobsters for a few days prior to taking the catch to market. However unlike keep pots which remain offshore below the water, these were tidal and took the form of a cage built from wood with a solid wooden top (which provided shade) containing a trapdoor.

  28. Turn left to return to the car park and complete the circular route.

    Porthgwarra was developed as a small fishing hamlet during the 18th and 19th Centuries. The slipway was built in 18th century and boats were hauled with a wooden capstan similar to the one that still survives at Penberth Cove. The buildings surrounding the beach date from the 19th Century and were originally fish cellars and net stores.

either as a GPS-guided walk with our app (£2.99) or a PDF (£1.99)

Please recycle your ink cartridges to help prevent plastic fragments being ingested by seabirds. Google "stinkyink" and click on "free recycling" for a freepost label.