Porthpean to Black Head circular walk

Porthpean to Black Head

The field at direction 24 is planted with barley across the official line of the path but there are tyre tracks through the crop along each edge of the field.

A circular walk from the sandy beach at Porthpean, past the brilliant white shingle beaches at Silvermine to the Iron Age fort on Black Head, returning via the site of an Iron Age metal works with spectacular views over St Austell Bay.

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The walk follows the Coast Path from Porthpean around St Austell Bay, passing through the Ropehaven Cliffs Nature Reserve on the way to Black Head. After rounding the headland to Hallane Mill, the route follows the stream up the valley to Pencarrow and then a lane through Trevissick and Lobb's Shop to Castle Gotha farm. From here the route follows footpaths across the fields with spectacular views of the bay before reaching Higher Porthpean, with the road past the church completing the circular route.


  • Note that most coastal walks in Cornwall have paths close to unfenced cliffs.

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Vital statistics

  • OS Explorer: 105
  • Distance: 5 miles/9 km
  • Steepness grade: Strenuous
  • Recommended footwear: Walking boots (waterproof in winter)

OS maps for this walk

OS Explorer 105 OS Explorer 105 (laminated version)

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


  • Panoramic views from Black Head of St Austell and Mevagissey Bays
  • Rocky cove at Hallane with a waterfall and natural arch
  • Spectacular views across St Austell Bay from near Castle Gotha
  • Sheltered, sandy beach at Porthpean


  1. From the car park, follow the track towards the beach to the end of the wall on the right where a track departs to the right towards a gate.

    The reefs either side of the beach provide a solid substrate for kelp to attach to.

    Kelp is the name given to a group of seaweed species. The most common in Cornwall is Oarweed - a leathery brown seaweed with finger-like strands. It grows at impressive rate of around 5% per day, doubling in length in about 2 weeks and can reach up to 4 metres in length.

    Kelp is high in sodium carbonate and was burned during Victorian times to harvest the alkaline ash which could be used in soap and glass production. Kelp is also contains significant amounts of iodine and was used as a source for this too. In 2010, researchers found in laboratory trials that alginate, the soluble fibre substance in kelp, was better at preventing fat absorption than most over-the-counter slimming aids.

  2. Turn right up the track and follow it towards the wooden gate, then turn left onto the waymarked path and follow this along the coast to reach a flight of steps leading to a (bypassed) stile.

    In the years after the Second World War, once the defences had been cleared from the beach and Porthpean was once again used as a pleasure beach, a sea mine washed up one morning. As it was a hot summer's day, the local coastguard carried it into the Watch House as he knew many people would be coming to the beach. He informed the Coastguard service and that evening, the bomb squad arrived from Plymouth and cleared the beach. The mine was carried back to the beach where it was detonated and the resulting explosion went higher than the tall cliffs around the bay.

    Most of the mines used during the Second World War were triggered by sensors which detonated if a metallic object disturbed the electromagnetic field surrounding them. When the coastguard had initially carried the mine off the beach, he had been wearing his coastguard hat which had a large metal badge!

  3. Climb the steps and continue along the coast path from the stile to reach a small footbridge.
  4. Cross the bridge, climb the stile and then follow the path up the steep field to reach a kissing gate at the top.

    In the mid-1980s, engineers identified ancient underwater channels criss-crossing the seabed in St Austell bay which had become filled with tin-rich sediment. However, no further exploration was done after the price of tin dropped. In recent years, the price of tin has been steadily increasing as the relatively rare metal is used in the production of electronic devices. These reserves are now being re-examined, with possible exploratory work to follow.

  5. Go through the gate and cross the field to a gap opposite with a granite gatepost. If there are gates across, go through these. Then follow the steps to the bottom of the valley to reach a footbridge.
  6. Cross the footbridge and climb the long flight of steps up the other side of the valley. Then follow the path to reach a gate and flight of steps leading to a lane.

    In autumn, sloes are often plentiful and can be used to flavour gin, sherry and cider. The berries can be harvested from September until nearly Christmas although more tend to shrivel as the autumn advances. Traditionalists say that you should wait until the first frosts in late November when the sloes are less bitter. This is because freezing breaks down the bitter tannins. Therefore you can pick your sloes in September before they go too wrinkly and then pop them in the freezer to achieve the same thing.

    Due to blackthorn wood's toughness, it was used to make tool handles, walking sticks and as a traditional Celtic weapon for clubbing people to death! It is still regarded as the ultimate wood for making walking sticks. Once cut and trimmed, the wood needs to be dried for at least a year (often several) which allows moisture to escape and the wood to shrink and harden.

  7. Go through the gate and descend the steps to the lane. Bear left onto the lane and follow it through the parking area to a fork just past the Trenarren sign. Keep left at the fork and follow the track until you reach a concrete area just past the house with a driveway for Ropeway.
  8. Turn left onto the narrow path leading from the left side of the concrete area and follow it through the woods until it joins another path at a bench.
  9. Turn right at the bench and follow the steps uphill to a junction of paths.

    A 49 acre area of the cliffs above Ropehaven was purchased by the Cornwall Wildlife Trust in 1986 to create a nature reserve. The reserve consists of mature broadleaf woodland and cliffs below which are formed from some of the oldest sedimentary rocks exposed in the South West of England. The inaccessible cliffs provide nesting sites for seabirds such as fulmars and gulls, and sea caves in the bay provide haul-out sites for grey seals. Near the exposed clifftop, the woodland consists of salt-tolerant blackthorn and hawthorn. On the lower slopes, in the lee of Black Head, it is mostly comprised of Sycamore and Ash with some Ivy and Holly growing beneath the canopy.

  10. Keep left at the top of the steps and follow the path around the coast until you reach a flight of steps descending into a wooded area.

    The lines of buoys out from Ropehaven were England's first offshore mussel farms. A line runs between two weights on the bottom and this is lifted to a couple of metres below the surface by the floats. The mussels are grown on ropes suspended from this which don't touch the seabed, ensuring they don't pick up grit and as many barnacles. They are naturally-occurring blue mussels which at their planktonic stage look for any suitable attachment to grow on, and attach themselves to the ropes. The ropes are initially coiled to suspend them in the top couple of metres of water where the mussel plankton (known as "spat") are most prevalent. Once the mussels begin to grow, the ropes are uncoiled to give them more space and to protect them from seabirds and other surface predation. EU restrictions on importing shellfish have reduced the size of the viable market for mussels so there is a pilot project to try growing seaweed on some of the ropes instead.

  11. Descend the steps, pass a path joining from the right, and continue until you reach a junction of paths at a large granite memorial.

    The granite memorial on Black Head, engraved with "This was the land of my content", was erected in the memory of Arthur Leslie Rowse, a Cornish writer and historian. Rowse was born in 1903, the son of an uneducated china clay worker, and was the first Cornishman to win a university scholarship, reading English at Christchurch College, Oxford.

  12. At the memorial, the path to the left leads out onto the headland which you may want to visit and the walk continues to the right. From the memorial, follow the path along the coast to reach a waymark with 4 arrows (3 blue, 1 yellow) beside a fence.

    The name "Black Head" dates back to at least Tudor times. A map from 1576 records it as The Blak heade poynt. From the North side there are views across St Austell Bay and to the South, across Mevagissey Bay to Chapel Point.

    Black Head was the site of an Iron Age fort which is thought to date from around the 3rd Century BC. Two large banks and ditches are clearly visible across the narrowest part of the headland. There were originally three ramparts but the outermost has almost vanished.

  13. Continue ahead at the waymark for a few paces further to another waymark at a junction of paths. Turn left at the junction and follow the path downhill to reach another waymark where a path departs to the left.
  14. Keep right to stay on the coast path and follow this until you reach a footbridge.

    The public bridleway running down the left side of the cottage leads to Hallane Beach.

    Hallane is a south-facing shingle beach with submerged rocks a short way offshore which surface as the tide goes out, and at low tide, a rocky platform is exposed along the shoreline. It is very sheltered which makes it suitable for swimming, and the offshore rocks provide a suitable spot for a rest and warm-up although care must be taken of the sharp barnacles. On the right-hand side of the beach, a waterfall cascades over a natural arch. At low tide, it is possible to walk around the arch to get behind the waterfall; slippery algae grows on the rocks beneath the waterfall so climbing through it is not recommended.

  15. Keep right to pass the bridge to stay on the path up the valley and continue to reach a gate. Go through this and follow the path to reach another gate with a "lift latch then push gate" sign.

    Hemlock (also known as water dropwort) is a member of the carrot family (related to cow parsley and alexanders) and is common in damp, shady places, particularly near streams. The stems are tubular and quite thick like alexanders and the leaves look quite like coriander (more toothed on the edges than alexanders). New leaves begin to shoot in early winter and by February these are starting to grow into quite noticeable small plants. It flowers in April and May with white flowers similar to cow parsley. It has a deceptively pleasant sweet smell but don't be tempted to try eating it: this is the most poisonous plant in UK. Just a handful of leaves can kill a human and a root contains enough poison to kill a cow.

    The stream is fed by several springs along the valley where underground streams emerge from the surrounding hills. The highest of these are beside the nursery used to grow the plants for the Eden Project and may be related to the name "Watering Lane".

  16. Use the handle at the top to open the gate (the latch has snapped off) and follow the path along the fence on the right to reach another gate.

    The small ridges in steeply-sloping fields are known as terracettes and are caused by soil creep and their formation is accelerated by animals using them as tracks.

    When the soil gets wet, it expands and particles are lifted up at right angles to the slope. When the soil dries out, it contracts, but the particles fall vertically under gravity, landing a millimetre further downhill from where they started. Over a long period of time, the soil gradually creeps downhill.

  17. Go through the gate and follow the path into a field. Follow along the left hedge of the field to reach a gate in the corner at the far side.

    Buzzards can sometimes be seen perching in the trees, and if not their loud and distinctive call can often be heard.

    Buzzards are not quiet birds! Their long, loud "pieeuuu" call can be often be the first thing to give away their presence and is one of the easiest bird calls to remember. It is thought that the original Latin word for buzzard was probably an onomatopoeia (i.e. an imitation of the bird's call) within the constraints of what was deemed an acceptable Latin word (suggesting "pieeuuu" would probably have resulted in being fed to the lions!).

  18. Go through the gate and across the footbridge. Follow the path along the gully to emerge into a grassy area facing a house.

    Handling primroses is best avoided as the hairs on the leaves and stems can cause contact dermatitis which is quite severe in some people. It is thought that some people may develop a tolerance with repeated exposure but nevertheless a study in a medical journal found that over a quarter of Primula growers experienced skin reactions.

    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.

  19. Walk along the length of the grassy area to the gate on the left leading onto a track running along the right-hand side of the house. Go through the gate and follow the track alongside the house to a driveway.

    Daffodils were originally called asphodels (lumped together with the other plants that are now called asphodels). A pronunciation variation was "affodell". No-one is quite sure how the initial "d" was added - perhaps "the asphodel" by someone with a cold ("d affodel").

  20. At the end of the path, turn right onto the driveway and follow this through a gate to reach a lane.
  21. Turn right onto the lane and follow it to a crossroads.

    As a pedestrian, it's still possible to participate in Cornwall's custom of highway chivalry. When a car approaches, if you make an effort to get out of the road as much as you are able, you will most likely be greeted with a cheerful wave or "proper job"; it is customary to reciprocate with a similar greeting.

  22. Continue ahead at the crossroads, signposted to St Austell and Porthpean, until you reach a track on the right for Silvermine House next to a large barn.

    In the fields on the right is the remains of Castle Gotha.

    Castle Gotha was a small oval-shaped settlement with a bank and ditch around it. Most of this has been ploughed away but a small section of the bank remains as the hedge between fields. Excavations have shown that the site was occupied in the Iron Age from the Second Century BC to the Second Century AD, and timber huts were originally located against the ramparts. The name of the settlement is from the Cornish word gov, meaning "blacksmith" and during excavations within the sites of the huts, metalworking remains were found. These included pits, hearths, a stone mould for casting brooches and the remains of a larger mould embedded in the floor. The larger mould is thought either to be an ingot mould or possibly for casting sheet metal.

  23. Turn right onto the track, cross the cattle grid and follow the track until you reach a waymarked gate on the left, opposite a kissing gate on the right.

    The large beach ahead is Carlyon Bay. To the right is Par Sands and to the left is Porthpean. The headland on the opposite side of the bay is Gribbin Head.

  24. Go through the waymarked gate on the left and bear left across the field (or walk around the perimeter if there is a crop without a path) to reach a kissing gate in the far corner of the bottom hedge.

    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.

  25. Go through the gate and turn left. Follow the top hedge along the field, passing between two granite posts and continue onward until the field ends with an opening in the top corner.

    If there are sheep in the field and you have a dog, make sure it's securely on its lead (sheep are prone to panic and injuring themselves even if a dog is just being inquisitive). If the sheep start bleating, this means they are scared and they are liable to panic.

    If there are pregnant sheep in the field, be particularly sensitive as a scare can cause a miscarriage. If there are sheep in the field with lambs, avoid approaching them closely, making loud noises or walking between a lamb and its mother, as you may provoke the mother to defend her young.

    Sheep may look cute but if provoked they can cause serious injury (hence the verb "to ram"). Generally, the best plan is to walk quietly along the hedges and they will move away or ignore you.

  26. Bear right through the opening and then keep the hedge on your left to descend the steep slope to a waymarked kissing gate in the bottom fence.
  27. Go through the gate and turn left onto the driveway. Follow this around the bend to the right and then keep left to follow the driveway uphill to reach a lane.

    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.

  28. Turn right onto the lane and follow this down the hill past the church to reach Porthpean Beach car park and complete the circular route.

    The whole village of Porthpean once formed part of the Penrice estate owned by the Sawle family. The church was built as a private chapel in 1884-5 out of local stone and slate. After the death in 1971 of Mrs Cobbold Sawle, the last in the line, the church was given by the estate’s Trustees to St Austell Parish. The church is dedicated to St Levan, the Cornish patron saint of fishermen.

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