Porthleven to Rinsey Head circular walk

Porthleven to Rinsey Head

A circular walk from Porthleven to the cliff-edge engine houses of Rinsey Head and Trewavas where the under-sea mine, set out with tables and food for the annual Tribute dinner, is said to have been breached by the sea just minutes before all the miners were due underground.

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The route follows the edge of Porthleven Harbour and joins the coast path in The Wrestling Fields. The walk then follows the coast past the Giant's Rock and beaches of Porth Sulinces and Breage to the granite dykes of the Megiliggar Rocks. The walk continues on the coast path to the huge balanced block of granite on Trewavas Head and then follows a permissive path through the middle of one engine house and past the others before rejoining the coast path to Wheal Prosper on Rinsey Head. The return route is relatively quick and easy, across the fields and along a small lane.

Considerations

  • Stiles include 4-6ft stone walls which are climbed via stone footholds.
  • Route includes paths close to unfenced cliff edges.

Reviews

I love this walk,have done it many times,stopping for packed lunch at rinhead(an Ann's pasty of course)
It is a perfect walk! Done it many times
Love this walk. My husband saw a Chough last time we did this x

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Vital statistics

  • OS Explorer: 102,103
  • Distance: 6.8 miles/10.9 km
  • Steepness grade: Moderate-strenuous
  • Recommended footwear: Walking shoes, or trainers in summer

OS maps for this walk

OS Explorer 102 OS Explorer 103 OS Explorer 102 (laminated version) OS Explorer 103 (laminated version)

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

Highlights

  • Historic harbour of Porthleven
  • Sandy beach at Porthcew
  • Engine houses at Trewavas and Rinsey Head
  • Good chance of seeing choughs

Pubs on or near the route

  • The Harbour Inn
  • The Ship Inn

Directions

  1. Make your way out of the car park to the street and turn right. Follow the lane along the back of the harbour to the Porthleven Harbour Market sign.

    The name Porthleven can be interpreted as the Cornish for "smooth cove" which could be a reference to the relatively sheltered natural harbour that existed here before the Victorian port was built, or it could possibly be from the name of the stream leading into the harbour. Names in the Cornish language normally date from the period before the Norman Conquest when landowners still spoke Cornish so the settlement may date from the Early Middle Ages. The first documented record of the settlement is from 1529 although records of a chapel of St Elvan date from 1257, so another theory is that the "leven" originates from the name of the 5th Century Celtic saint but no historical evidence has so far been found.

  2. Turn left onto the small lane with the market sign and follow this alongside the harbour. After the Ship Inn, keep right to follow the lane alongside the wall and uphill to a junction opposite a Claremont Terrace sign.

    The cannons either side of the harbour are from the HMS Anson.

    In December 1807, the Navy frigate HMS Anson hit bad weather off Mount's Bay. They attempted to head into Falmouth harbour but realised they were trapped by the wind on the wrong side of the Lizard. The captain anchored the ship but the anchor rope snapped. A second anchor was deployed and held fast but this also snapped. As a last resort, the captain attempted to sail the ship onto the beach at the centre of the Loe Bar, but hit an uncharted reef just 100 metres off the beach. The force of the collision caused the main mast to topple onto the beach. Some of the crew were able to escape across it but around 100 drowned in the huge breakers. One of the witnesses was Henry Trengrouse who was so moved by the helplessness of the onlookers that he spent much of his life and personal savings developing the rocket lifesaving apparatus which went on to save many thousands of lives. A canon salvaged from the wreck in 1964 is on display outside the Helston museum and a cross overlooks the beach, commemorating both the disaster and the life work of Henry Trengrouse. Gold coins are occasionally found which are thought to be from pockets of the officers aboard.

    The Ship Inn is the oldest remaining pub in Porthleven, built in the first decade of the 19th Century and originally named the Ship Tavern. The Fishmongers' Arms on the opposite side of the harbour was older, built in the 18th Century, but this was demolished and the Institute built in its place.

  3. At the junction, keep left along the track signposted to Rinsey on the wooden Coast Path sign. Follow the track to a wooden gate.

    In January 1884, the Austrian sailing vessel Cviet was on the way to Falmouth from the Caribbean with a cargo of wood used to produce dyes for textiles. On the approach to Cornwall, a strong gale swept away the cargo from the deck and left the ship unmanageable. The captain made a run for the shore before the ship sank, and nearly made it to Porthleven harbour but was driven ashore on the rocks to the east of the pier. The captain, bowswain and a seaman drowned attempting to reach the shore and are buried at Porthleven church.

  4. Follow the path around the gate and continue until you reach a waymark just before a memorial.

    The Giant's Rock, also known as Giant's Quoit or The Moonstone, is a large boulder on the rocky foreshore. It is composed of a type of gneiss containing the semi-precious mineral garnet not found anywhere else in the UK. A theory for how it got here is that during the last Ice Age, the boulder was once picked up by a glacier in Northern Europe which eventually flowed into the sea, where the glacier crumbled into icebergs. The rock was trapped in one of these icebergs, which floated here and became stranded on the high tide line. The ice melted away to free the imprisoned rock, leaving it on the shoreline where it is today. The boulder weighs in excess of 50 tons. From a back-of-envelope density calculation, the iceberg would likely have been in excess of 1500 tons in order to float with the heavy rock inside it.

  5. At the waymark, turn left down the steps and pass the memorial. Follow the path to reach another waymark at the top of a few steps where the path passes the end of a wall.

    The monument is to the many seamen who died in wrecks along this stretch of coast and many of whom are buried on the cliffs. Following the wreck of the HMS Anson, Thomas Grylls, the MP for Helston, put forward an Act of Parliament that bodies washed ashore should be buried in consecrated ground, and the Act was passed into law in 1808.

  6. Continue on the path to reach another waymark at a gap in a wall.

    Sea beet is also known as "wild spinach" and is the ancestor of sugar beet, beetroot and Swiss chard. It can be eaten raw or cooked. The leaves are at their best during March and April and become tougher as the year goes on.

  7. Go through the gap and follow the path around the cove and then along the coast to another waymark at a gap through a wall.

    The narrow inlet, directly below the gap in the wall is named "Zawn Shaggy".

    According to "The Z to Z of Great Britain", there are just over 40 place names in Britain that begin with the letter Z; over three-quarters of them are in Cornwall. One of the main reasons for this is that the Cornish word for "coastal inlet" is zawn, and coastline is something that Cornwall has rather a lot of.

  8. Go through the gap and continue following the path along the cliffs to reach a waymarked stone stile over a wall.

    The buoy barnacle is a strange-looking blue creature that sometimes washes up on the shore in groups of a few at a time. It is a kind of goose barnacle but it excretes a substance which resembles expanding foam to create its own float. Several barnacles may latch on to the same float, each adding a bit of extra foam to it if they weigh it down too much.

  9. Cross the stile and follow the path to reach a kissing gate.

    In January 2004, a trawler from Brittany, the "Bugaled Breizh", sank off The Lizard with the loss of 5 lives. After raising the vessel, it was found to have sustained no impact but to have been crushed by water pressure. Accident investigators concluded that the vessel was most likely to have been pulled under by its nets snagging a submarine, which could take down a vessel of this size in just over a minute. There were several British, French and Dutch submarines in the approximate area at the time on a NATO exercise, but none of these were reported to be at the location where the boat sank. There was also an unidentified submarine in the area, observing the NATO exercise, and the conclusion of the Inquiry by the French authorities was that this "spy" submarine may well have been the cause of the sinking.

  10. Go through the gate and follow the path to another kissing gate at the bottom of the valley.

    In 1948, The Energetic - a fishing boat crewed by six brothers from Porthleven - was out fishing when thick fog rolled in whilst their nets were out. Meanwhile, The Chrysanthy Star - an American steamship bound for Falmouth - had realised they had insufficient coal to reach port and so had changed course for the Isles of Scilly. In the fog, the visibility was only around 150 yards, and the steamer struck the fishing boat which sank in seconds. The only survivor of the six brothers was the one who couldn't swim. As he went overboard, he grabbed a canvas buoy but this was punctured and sank. Next he tried to stay afloat using a wooden spar from the ship but this would not hold his weight. Finally he managed to reach one of the boat's marker buoys and hold onto this for 15 minutes until he was rescued by a lifeboat. A church service was attended by over 1000 fishermen from all over Cornwall.

  11. Go through the gate and follow the path over a stream, stile and another wooden walkway to reach a wooden stile in the fence.

    It's estimated that on average around 1 tonne of fishing gear is left in the ocean every minute either by being lost or discarded. This is known as "ghost gear" as it drifts through the ocean, killing marine life in its path. This includes over 100,000 whales, dolphins and turtles every year as well as countless fish and seabirds. When it finally washes up on beaches, it makes up around 10% of all marine litter.

    A number of initiatives are underway to try to prevent fishing gear being dumped in the sea which even include recycling old nets into skateboards. However, since the gear that's already in the sea can take 600 years to break down, you can help by spotting any washed up on the beach. If you come across a small amount of fishing gear on a beach that's safe to remove then bin it. If you spot some that's too large to deal with yourself then take a photo and email it to sue@cornwallsealgroup.co.uk, describing where it is and giving an idea of size.

  12. Pass the stile and continue ahead on the coast path to reach a waymarked stone stile.

    Celandine flowers close each night and open each morning. This is controlled by a circadian rhythm, so they really are "going to sleep" at night and "waking up in the morning". It is likely that this has arisen to protect the internals of the flowers from any frost during the night as they begin flowering in March when frosts are still common.

    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.

  13. Cross the stile and follow the coast path to a gate.

    Common gorse flowers have a coconut-like scent but rather than fresh coconut, it is reminiscent of desiccated coconut or the popular brand of surf wax, Mr Zoggs. However, not everyone experiences the smell in the same way: for some people it's very strong and for others it quite weak. One complicating factor is that Western Gorse flowers don't have any scent, so you need to be sniffing a tall gorse plant to test yourself.

    Flower scents are volatile organic compounds which drift though the air and has evolved as an advertisement to pollinating insects that nectar is available. Squeezing the flowers releases these compounds onto the surface where they can evaporate and therefore intensifies the smell. Similarly the warming effect of sunlight helps the compounds to evaporate faster and so the smell is more intense on sunny days.

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

  14. Pass around the gate and follow the path down to the bottom of the valley and up the steps on the other side to reach a kissing gate.

    The engine houses at Trewavas and Rinsey head are on a body of granite known as the Tregonning outcrop. This is thought to be an offshoot of a much larger body of granite which also surfaces at Carn Brea near Camborne. The Tregonning outcrop ends in the area around Megiliggar Rocks, and along the coast you can see the sills and dykes where the molten magma forced its way hundreds of metres into the existing slate rocks. The light-coloured stripes in the cliffs are some of the granite sills.

  15. Go through the gate and follow the path to a gap in a wall with a sign for Trewavas Cliff.

    Choughs nest along this stretch of coast.

    In the 1800s, many choughs were killed by "sportsmen" and trophy hunters. Also around this time, grazing livestock were moved to inland pastures where they could be more easily managed. The result was that the cliff slopes became overgrown and choughs found it increasingly difficult to find suitable feeding areas. By 1973, the chough had become extinct in Cornwall. In recent years, clifftops have been managed more actively which has included the reintroduction of grazing. Choughs have returned to Cornwall by themselves from colonies in Wales or Ireland.

  16. Continue on the path ahead to reach a fork in the path.

    The path to the left leads out onto the headland overlooking Trequean Zawn. There are spectacular views but if you go to have a look, be very careful, as the path between the two parts of the headland is along the very edge of the cliff.

  17. At the fork, bear left down the slope to the engine house. Follow the path through the engine house to where the path meets the well-worn path descending the hill.

    The Wheal Trewavas mine opened in 1834 and worked four copper lodes which ran under the seabed. Wheal Trewavas produced over £100,000 worth of copper ore, which in today's money would be over £10 million. By the 1840s, the lodes were beginning to peter out or were too close to the seabed to be mined safely without causing flooding. Mining became uneconomical and it closed in 1846 with allegations that the last dividends had been paid from bank overdrafts.

    The large, circular area next to the lowest engine house was known as a "capstan platt", where a capstan powered by horses would be used for winching ore up from the mine. The flat, round area has proved irresistible to helicopter pilots from Culdrose who are reported to sometimes use it for landing practice.

    More about the Wheal Trewavas.

  18. Merge onto the path ahead and follow this to reach a junction of paths with some boulders and a waymark.

    A story of when the mine flooded was published in 1961. One of the mining traditions was a "Tributer's Dinner" where tables would be set out within the mine for an annual meal. According to the account, the tables had been laid with food and two miners were just putting the finishing touches to the tables, when they noticed water dripping onto one of the tables from the under-sea tunnel. The miners made a hasty exit and shortly after, the sea broke through and flooded the mine, washing away their dinner and employment, but no lives were lost.

  19. Bear left to pass around the boulders and follow the path indicated by the waymark (also marked Hendra circular walk) to reach another waymark.

    The paths to the left lead to an isolated chimney stack and there is also a platform at the edge of the cliff with good views over all three engine houses.

  20. Continue ahead at the waymark, signposted Hendra circular walk, and follow the path until you eventually reach the engine house of Wheal Prosper.

    As you round the headland, there is a rock stack that looks a bit like a compressed camel. It is consequently known locally as Camel Rock, but is labelled as The Bishop on OS maps. It was recorded as Bishop Rock in 1865 and described as "a colossal figure with its back to the sea, with clasped hands resting on a lectern, whilst the robe trails down to the sea".

  21. Follow the path from the engine house to reach a gate into the car park.

    Wheal Prosper was opened in 1860 and produced mainly tin but definitely did not live up to its name and closed in 1866. The engine house is constructed of slate from quarries on the clifftops nearby and was used for pumping water out of the mine. Due to the crumbly nature of slate, the engine house is strengthened with granite blocks along the edges (known as quoins) which act as pillars to hold the weight of the tall structure.

    Rinsey House was built on the headland in 1927 as a holiday home. A firm of architects was commissioned to design the house in "Arts and Crafts" style, based on the family home in Yorkshire.

  22. Go through the kissing gate to the left of the gate. Walk through the car park to reach a lane. Follow the lane away from the car park until it ends at a junction with a triangular island.

    Just before the gate into the car park, a path to the left leads to Porthcew beach.

    The beach of Porthcew, also known as Rinsey Cove, is owned by the National Trust. There is little or no beach at high tide, but as the tide goes out, a fairly large beach is revealed, with rockpools either side. In calm conditions, typically during the summer, the beach is composed of fine white sand. Winter storms can move the sand offshore, exposing smooth granite boulders. Due to very strong currents around Rinsey Head, swimming is not recommended, particularly at low water.

  23. Turn right at the junction (ignore any footpath signs) and follow the lane to the end of the tarmac. Then keep left to reach a public footpath sign beside a farm gate.

    The settlement of Rinsey dates back to the Dark Ages and the name is from the Cornish words rynn and chy, meaning something along the lines of "Cottage on the point". By Norman Times, there was a manor at Rinsey which is documented in the 1086 Domesday survey as "Renti" and was sub-let from the Royal Manor of Winnaton. It is recorded as having "land for 12 ploughs, pasture ½ league long and as wide". The unit of a league was based on the distance that one person could walk in an hour, which was standardised at 3 miles.

  24. Cross the stone stile or go through the gate. Follow the left hedge of the field to reach a short overgrown track in the corner of the field, leading to a gate and stone stile.

    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.
  25. Cross the stile to the right of the gate and turn left at the bottom. Continue following the left hedge to a gateway in the hedge opposite.

    Mounts Bay is a partially-enclosed body of water which is prone to a phenomenon known as seiching where the tremors from an earthquake form a standing wave which reflects back and forth between the opposite coasts. The seiche from the Lisbon Earthquake in 1755 caused a sudden 8ft rise in sea level which flooded Penzance.

  26. Go through the gateway and bear right slightly across the field to the gateway in the middle of the hedge ahead.

    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".

  27. Go through the gateway and bear left slightly across the field towards the telegraph pole to a stone stile just to its left marked with a post on the top of the wall.

    Due to the curvature of the earth, the distance you can see to the horizon depends on your height above sea level. This increases with the square root of height (i.e. with diminishing returns). An adult typically sees the horizon about 3 miles from the beach. From the top of a 100 foot lighthouse, it is about 12 miles away. At the top of the highest cliff in Cornwall it is roughly 33 miles out but if a 100ft tower were built all the way up here, it would only allow an extra 2 miles to be seen.

  28. Cross the stile and follow the left hedge to reach a stone stile beneath a footpath sign.
  29. Cross the stile and bear left across the lane to the stone stile opposite. Cross the stile and follow along the fence in front of the barn on the right, then bear left to the stone stile beneath the post in the top corner.

    The first record of the settlement of Trewavas is from 1289 when it was spelled "Trewaevos". The name is from the Cornish word gwavos (pronounced more like "hwavos") which means "Winter dwelling". This alludes to a mediaeval farming practice where cows were moved up to the moors for the summer and down to the coast for the winter. Traces of an early mediaeval field system have been discovered near the farm.

    gwavos itself is from the Cornish word gwav for "Winter", stuck onto bos which means "dwelling". In case you're wondering where the "b" went, one of the features of Cornish is that the first letter of a word can mutate depending where it appears in a sentence. The hard "b" sound becomes a softer "v" sound, hence vos.

    During the early 19th Century, Trewavas is thought to have grown into a small hamlet with cottages for miners working at Wheal Trewavas - a number of small buildings are recorded on the 1839 Tithe map whilst the mine was still working. The mine closed in 1846, and by the 1880s (when the 1st Edition OS map was drawn) a different configuration of buildings is shown suggesting the cottages had been cleared away to make room for some larger farm buildings.

  30. Cross the stile and bear left slightly across the field to the old wooden gate in the middle of the top hedge, to the right of the line of telegraph poles crossing the field.

    Daisy flowers are not actually a single flower but a composite made of lots of little flowers. Each tiny yellow dot making up the central area is a tubular flower. Similarly each petals is a specially-adapted miniature flower.

  31. Cross the stile beside the gate and follow the left hedge to the gate opposite. Go through this and follow the left hedge, passing to the left of the rubble, to reach a metal gate just to the left of the house.

    Between the two species, some gorse is almost always in flower, hence the old country phrases: "when gorse is out of blossom, kissing's out of fashion" (which is recorded from the mid-19th century) and "when the furze is in bloom, my love's in tune" (which dates from the mid-18th century). Common gorse flowers are bright yellow. Western gorse flowers are very slightly more orange - more like the colour of the "yolk" in a Cadbury's creme egg. Also like creme eggs, gorse flowers are edible but are significantly better for use in salads and to make a tea, beer or wine.

  32. Go through the gate and pass along the side of the house. Turn right onto the gravel and follow it past the buildings to a gate across the track. Go through this and follow the track away from the buildings to reach another gate across the track in the hedge on the far side of the field.

    Chickens are descended from junglefowl and those in Britain came originally from India. They evolved the ability to lay large numbers of eggs to take advantage of gluts of food that occur in their native forests. It is thought they were introduced to Britain by Iron Age tribes who bred them for fighting rather than meat and cockfighting remained Britain's national sport until 1835. During the mediaeval period, more placid forms of chicken were bred that were less hazardous to farm but it wasn't until the 17th Century that chickens and eggs were farmed on a mass scale. In Britain, over 10 billion eggs are now consumed every year.

  33. Go through the gate and follow the track until it ends on a lane.

    The word "bramble" comes from bræmaz - a word of Germanic origin meaning "prickly". The study of brambles is involved enough to be considered a discipline of its own and is known as batology (from baton - the Ancient Greek word for blackberry).

  34. Turn right onto the lane and follow it for roughly a mile and a half into Porthleven to reach the junction at the Claremont Terrace sign.

    Cornwall had a number of its own peculiar units of measurement:

    • A Cornish Gallon was a unit of weight (10 lbs) rather than volume. A Cornish Apple Gallon however was 7 lb, rather than 10 lb. Given the strength of Cornish Rattler, this is probably wise.
    • When counting fish, a Cornish hundred was, in fact, 132.
    • Finally, a Cornish Mile is 1.5 miles. Though you may suspect otherwise when walking up a steep hill, our walk distances are not measured in Cornish Miles.
  35. Keep left to follow Claremont Terrace down to the harbour.

    Until the 19th Century, Porthleven was a small fishing village with a modest harbour. In 1811, permission was granted for a development project to create a new mineral port, importing coal and timber and exporting ore. The building work was completed in 1818, but just four years later the new harbour was destroyed by a storm and was rebuilt in 1825. In 1855, the harbour was improved with the addition of a breakwater and balks to protect boats in the inner harbour during storms. The mineral port proved financially unsuccessful despite several companies attempting to make it a viable enterprise, however, the development of the harbour greatly improved the fishing trade.

  36. Turn right at the bottom to return to the car park.

    Porthleven's most prominent building is the Institute, instantly recognisable by the 70ft high clock tower. The Institute was built on the site of an 18th Century inn - The Fishmongers Arms - which was demolished in 1883. The new building opened in 1884 as Porthleven Literary Institute for the furthering of scientific knowledge and literacy - a gift to Porthleven from Mr Bickford-Smith of Trevarno, a former Member of Parliament. It is consequently now known as The Bickford Smith Institute. The large reading room contained hundreds of books, newspapers and a telegram news service and was heated by two stoves.

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