Portreath and Tehidy Woods circular walk

Portreath and Tehidy Woods

A circular walk along the rugged North Cliffs hiding smuggler's coves such as Ralph's Cupboard, to the sandy beach and historic mining port of Portreath, returning via the bluebell woodland of Illogan and Tehidy Country Park.

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The walk follows a byway to Basset's Cove and follows the coast path along the rugged coastline to Portreath, passing the endearingly-named cove of Ralph's Cupboard. The route follows the cliffs behind the beach at Portreath then follows small lanes to Illogan Woods. The route climbs through the wooded valley and emerges near the remains of an old mine. Mining trails then form the route to Tehidy Country Park where the route follows Pine Walk and the Rose Garden to reach the bluebell woods of the North Cliffs plantation.


  • Route includes paths close to unfenced cliff edges.

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Vital statistics

  • OS Explorer: 104
  • Distance: 5.2 miles/8.4 km
  • Steepness grade: Moderate-strenuous
  • Recommended footwear: walking boots

OS maps for this walk

OS Explorer 104 OS Explorer 104 (laminated version)

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


  • Rugged coastline along the North Cliffs
  • Spectacular views over Western Cove and Portreath from Western Hill
  • Sandy beach at Portreath
  • Bluebells in Illogan Wood and the North Woods Plantation
  • Autumn colours in Tehidy woods

Pubs on or near the route

  • Portreath Arms Hotel
  • The Basset Arms
  • The Waterfront Inn


  1. Follow the track back out of the car park towards the road. Turn right at the road and follow the verge until you are opposite a track.

    The thing that resembles a giant golf ball is known as a "radome" - a weatherproof enclosure that protects a microwave RADAR antenna from the elements. In particular, if ice forms on the antenna, this can detune it. Often the antenna inside rotates, hence the need for the round shape.

  2. Carefully turn left across the road and follow the track towards the coast to reach a parking area at the end.

    Not to be outdone by Bedruthan Steps or Bolster at St Agnes, the North Cliffs has its own maritime giant legend too. The Wrath of Portreath was said to throw rocks at passing boats, steal their treasure and eat their crew. This could have arisen from the shallow reefs in these waters which were highly dangerous for shipping and resulted in a similar outcome.

  3. Bear right across the parking area to join the coast path leading from the far right-hand side. Follow this to reach a stile on the far side of Basset's Cove.

    The spring that emerges in the field on the right is known as Mirrose Well.

    Before Christianity, the Pagan Celtic people of Cornwall worshipped wonders of the natural world. Where clean, drinkable water welled up from the ground in a spring, this was seen as pretty awesome. The sites were seen as portals to another world, and is why fairies are often associated with springs. Where the springwater dissolved minerals, for specific conditions (e.g. deficiency in a mineral) or where the minerals present had antibacterial/fungal properties, the water appeared to have healing powers.

  4. Cross the stile and follow the path to reach a footbridge at the bottom of the next valley.

    The lighthouse that you can see to the left is Godrevy.

    The Stones Reef off Godrevy Point has always been a shipping hazard and a lighthouse had been considered for a long time, but nothing was done until in 1854, the SS Nile was wrecked with the loss of all on board. The lighthouse was finished in 1859 and is a 26m tall octagonal tower, located on the largest rock of the reef. The lighthouse inspired Virginia Woolfe's novel "To the Lighthouse", despite her setting the novel in The Hebrides. In 2012, the light was decommissioned and replaced with an LED light on a platform facing the sea. The tower is still maintained as a daytime navigation aid.

    More about Godrevy Lighthouse and Virginia Woolfe in Cornwall

  5. Cross the footbridge and continue on the coast path to reach another footbridge at the bottom of a deeper valley.

    Hanging valleys are common on the North Cornish coast and are created due to erosion of the relatively hard cliffs by the Atlantic waves being faster than erosion of the valley by a small river. In many cases, this results in a waterfall where the small river meets the sea cliff, though many of these are little more than a trickle in dry weather. When there is a strong onshore gale, the waterfalls sometimes run backwards!

  6. Cross the footbridge and follow the path roughly half-way up the headland to reach a junction of paths at the top of a few steps.

    The (outermost) islet is appropriately known as Samphire Island.

    Rock samphire has been a popular wild food since Celtic times. It has a strong, characteristic, slightly lemony flavour and recently has become more well-known as a flavouring for gin. It was very popular as a pickle in 16th century Britain until it almost died out from over-picking in the 19th Century. Consequently, it's currently a protected plant but is now making a good comeback. In Shakespeare's time, a rope was tied to a child's ankles and he was dangled over the cliff to pick the rock samphire that grew in crevices and clefts in the rocks.

    The completely unrelated but similar-looking golden samphire also grows around the North Cornish coast. The leaves look almost identical, but the daisy-like yellow flowers in summer are a giveaway, as rock samphire has tiny green-white flowers that look more like budding cow parsley. Golden samphire is edible, but is inferior in flavour to rock samphire; it is also nationally quite rare in Britain.

    Also completely unrelated is marsh samphire (also known as glasswort) which looks more like micro-asparagus. This is what typically appears on restaurant menus or in supermarkets as "samphire".

  7. Turn right and follow the waymarked path to the top of the headland where the path is routed off the coast into a field.

    The side of the valley that you are currently climbing faces south and therefore the wildflowers on this side of the valley are sun-loving species such as thrift. In spring you can see a marked difference in the colours of the flowers on either side of the valley with the shady north-facing side dotted in yellow primroses. Three-cornered leeks dominate the bottom of the valley - presumably they have spread along the stream. They are invasive and will grow just about anywhere!

  8. Go through the gap in the fence into the field and follow the path along the fence to a kissing gate where the path returns to the coast.

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

    The name "stonechat" comes from the sound of their call which resembles stones being knocked together.

  9. Go through the gate to emerge on the coast and follow the path to reach a kissing gate beside a gateway.

    The narrow inlet is known as Ralph's Cupboard after a smuggler who hid contraband here. The narrow inlet, formed from a collapsed sea cave, provides a safe haul-out for seals.

    Seal pups have been seen in every month of the year but the majority are born in the autumn and early winter. Female seals mate soon after weaning their pups whilst the males are still around defending and patrolling the beaches. For just over three months the fertilised embryo does not attach to the wall of the uterus and does not develop. There then follows a gestation period of just under 9 months. This evolutionary strategy - known as delayed implantation - results in the pups being born at the same time every year.

  10. Go through the kissing gate or gateway and follow the path to reach a waymark at a junction of paths.

    The rock furthest off the point ahead is known as Gull Rock.

    It has been suggested that a law must have been passed in Cornwall whereby all offshore rocks must be renamed "Gull Rock"! There are examples at:

    • Trebarwith Strand
    • Morwenstow
    • Buckator near Boscastle
    • Portreath
    • Nare Head on The Roseland
    • One of the islands at Kynance Cove
    • Holywell Bay (in the plural)

    It seems to be a relatively recent phenomenon as many reports from the 1800s use different names for the rocks now named Gull Rock.

    In the local dialect, the word "orestone" was used to describe such offshore rocks. An object was described as "orey" if covered in seaweed (oarweed being another name for the commonest kelp found around the Cornish coast).

  11. At the waymark, follow the left-hand (waymarked) path around the headland to reach a waymark at the top of a steep descent. Follow the path down the hill to reach a waymark next to a kissing gate.

    Amongst the seabirds that nest on the cliffs are kittiwakes.

    Kittiwakes are a member of the gull family, recognisable by their black legs and black wing tips. During the spring and summer, the birds form colonies on cliffs or rock stacks. After August, they move offshore for the winter to feed. Unlike herring gulls, which have been able to adapt their shoreline scavenging to urban rubbish tips, kittiwakes feed solely on fish and have been declining in some areas, possibly due to overfishing.

  12. Turn left through the kissing gate and follow the path to reach a driveway.

    The first quay was built at Portreath in 1713 near Amy's Point, though it was destroyed by the sea before 1749. In the late 1770s, during the American Revolutionary war, the harbour was fortified and shortly after this, in 1786, the pier was built. In the 19th century, Portreath was one of the main ports for the export of copper ore. In fact, in 1827 it was described as Cornwall's most important port. The two rectangular basins that today make up the harbour and the long breakwater just below the cliffs were built for the copper trade.

  13. Turn right onto the driveway and keep right as it merges onto a lane. Follow the lane until it eventually meets the main road.

    Portreath beach faces NNW so it is relatively sheltered from prevailing southwesterlies by Western Hill. Southerly or southeasterly winds provide the best surf conditions.

    Beneath the beach at Portreath are the remains of a submerged forest. During the 1980s, the beach was scoured by a storm and this was uncovered. The remains consisted of tree roots and fragments of wood set in peat.

  14. Cross the road to the track opposite but, almost immediately, bear left off the track onto a small path along the river. Follow this until you reach a bridge on the left, opposite the pub on the right.

    On the beach at Portreath there are six rectangular pools cut into the rock. These were created in the late 1700s on the orders of Frances Basset at Tehidy for his wife and daughter. During Georgian times, it was widely believed that bathing in cold saltwater was especially good for one's health and this continued into Victorian times with bathing machines being created to avoid ladies being seen in their extensive swimming garments.

    There are two other pools on the other side of the beach, one large one which is thought to have been constructed in the 20th Century and a smaller one nearby. It isn't known if these were originally created by Basset (and subsequently enlarged in the case of the bigger pool) or were just inspired by his original pools.

    Basset's pools at Portreath are thought to be slightly later than the one constructed in Mounts Bay by John Stackhouse (owner of the Pendarves Estate) for his sickly wife. It's possible that Basset's pools were inspired by this, particularly as the Pendarves Estate is not far from the home of the Bassets at Tehidy so there would have been social contact.

  15. Continue ahead along Tregea Terrace until it ends on a road.

    Portreath is situated on the coast north of Redruth. The name Portreath was first recorded in 1485 and is from the Cornish Porth Treth meaning "sandy cove". As with many coastal villages, there was a fishing fleet who fished mainly for pilchards. Mining for tin and copper nearby led to further development of the port. There are records of tin being extracted from the valley stream beds at least as far back as 1602 and the proximity to the mines of Camborne and Redruth resulted in large amounts of ore being exported during the 18th and 19th Centuries.

  16. Bear right beneath the bridge and follow the road (Glenfeadon Terrace) until you reach a Mining Trail signpost on the left, opposite Primrose Terrace joining from the right.

    In 1837, a branch line of the Hayle Railway was built to connect the port of Portreath to mines in Camborne and Redruth. In order to transport wagons from the top of the valley to the harbour, the Inclined Plane was built. This was a massive 1:10 slope running all the way from the top of the valley which was cut into the bedrock and over the viaduct that Glenfeadon Terrace passes beneath. A steam engine at the top of the valley hauled a wagon up with a cable, whilst a wagon was lowered at the same time to act as a counter-balance. It was typically ore being brought down and (in much larger quantities) coal was taken up to power the many steam engines, including the one for raising the coal. Letting that one run out of coal would have been a major mistake!

  17. Continue ahead along Primrose Terrace until the lane forks.

    Jubilee Gardens on the left were created in 1977 to celebrate the Royal Silver Jubilee.

    Royal Jubilees began with George III celebrating 50 years on the throne in 1809 with a Golden Jubilee, followed by Queen Victoria in 1887. Victoria was the first monarch to celebrate a Diamond Jubilee in 1897. Elizabeth II celebrated a 25 year Silver Jubilee in 1977, a Golden Jubilee in 2002 and Diamond Jubilee in 2012.

  18. At the fork, keep right and follow the lane until it ends and a path departs to the left with a granite post.

    Sycamore flowers are pollinated by flies such as bluebottles rather than the wind. Within the female flower, two of the carpels (reproductive parts) are fused together. These develop into the pair of fused seeds with their "wings" at an angle. When the seeds fall, this creates the "helicopter" action that allows the seeds to be caught and carried by the wind as they slowly spiral downwards.

  19. Join the path and follow this to where the tarmac ends at a gap in a wall. Go through the gap and over the stream (via a bridge) and follow the path to where it passes over the stream a second time (via a concrete crossing).

    The wall that you pass through just before the first stream crossing is the remains of an anti-tank defence constructed during the Second World War.

    A cider mill was situated close to the second stream crossing.

    The UK produces nearly two-thirds of all cider in the European Union and by volume of alcohol, the excise duty on cider is lower than any other drink. Cider has had a huge resurgence in popularity over the last few years and three in five adults now drink it.

    Cider is part of the Westcountry heritage and this includes a tradition dating back to the early Middle Ages known as the "Orchard Wassail" where an offering of bread and cider was made to the apple trees and incantations were recited to promote a good harvest.

    Cornish ciders beginning to achieve popularly outside the county include "Cornish Rattler" from Healey's cider farm (distributed by St Austell Ales) and "Orchard Cornish" cider (a joint venture between Cornish Orchards and Sharp's Brewery). In the interests of research, both have been extensively tested and deemed very refreshing and conducive to the recital of incantations.

  20. Follow the path over the stream and continue along the path until you pass three granite posts and reach a path departing to the right before another three granite posts.

    The river at Portreath was known as the Red River due to minerals from the mines draining into it. Just after the river crossing in Illogan wood is the remains of a building and above this is a tiny stream flowing into the river which is still bright red.

    When the acidic solution containing dissolved metals from mines (known as Acidic Mine Drainage) meets other water, it is diluted and the reduced acidity causes dissolved iron to precipitate out as orange or yellow hydroxides, colouring the water and sticking to anything in the watercourse. In the case of copper mines, copper stays dissolved in the water and at higher levels this can be toxic to wildlife, particularly fish.

    Where there is a large amount of water coming from a mine which is not rendered harmless by natural dilution, reed beds have been found to be very effective in treating the acidic water. Plants and bacteria in the reed bed convert the dissolved metals into insoluble compounds that are trapped within the reed bed. There are even suggestions that the metals may be commercially recoverable after they have been concentrated in the reed bed over a period of time.

  21. When you reach the junction, turn right onto the path and follow this to some steps. Continue up the steps and follow the path from the top to emerge in a field.

    During spring, the paths in the wood are lined with yellow flowers of the lesser celandine.

    Celandine roots have numerous knobbly tubers and when these break off, a new plant can regrow from the tuber. Digging animals such as rabbits and squirrels can therefore help to spread celandines. In some parts of the world they have become an invasive problem where their dense mat of leaves chokes out native species which have not evolved to compete with them.

    There are over 280 species of hoverflies in Britain. As the name of the family implies, they are very good at hovering completely stationary in flight and can switch from very fast flight to a perfect hover in the blink of an eye.

    Many have colour patterns that mimic stinging bees and wasps so predators avoid them even though they don't sting. They are quite convincing con-artists and when caught will push down their abdomen in a simulated stinging action to keep up the illusion.

    The granite posts where the path departs are the remains of coffin stiles.

    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.

  22. Bear right and follow the right hedge of the field to reach a track by a granite gatepost.
  23. Turn right onto the stony track and follow it to where a path departs to the right, immediately after the track passes between two wooden gateposts.

    In the yard ahead, one of the buildings was built to house a "horse engine" for threshing corn. The circular building would have contained a capstan-like device known as a "whim" which the horses would turn to provide the source of power. A popular design involved a central wooden pole which rotated in a stone on the ground containing a central hole. Such a stone was found beneath the floorboards when the building was re-floored in 1990. The settlement of Trengove is first recorded in 1319 and the name is thought to be from the Cornish word for "blacksmith" (gof).

  24. Turn right onto the path with the wooden fence alongside. Follow this until it ends at a lane.

    Swallows sometimes fly along the track. using the hedges to trap insects.

    Swallows have evolved a long slender body and pointed wings that makes their flight more than twice as efficient as other birds of a similar size. In flight, swallows can reach 35 mph which is particularly impressive given they weigh only 20 grams.

    Between Bude and Land's End, National Cycle Routes 3 and 32 are collectively known as the Cornish Way, stretching for 123 miles.

  25. Turn left and pass through the wooden barrier to join the path. Follow this until it eventually ends on a road.

    The Mining Trails are a 60km network of walking, horse riding and cycling trails opened in 2010. The routes are largely based on the trackbeds of tramways and railways that were used to transport ore from the mines to the ports on both coasts. For this reason, the project was originally known as the Mineral Tramways.

  26. Carefully cross the road to the path opposite. Follow this alongside the car park and through the woods until it ends in a T-junction with another path, opposite a signpost.

    The manor of Tehidy was owned by the Basset family from Norman times until 1916. During the 1700s, the family became very wealthy from copper mining and a mansion was built in 1734, set in extensive grounds with a lake. During the 18th and 19th centuries, the manor was frequented by the gentry and inventors of mining technology. Shortly after the manor was sold, it was converted to a hospital which was devastated by a fire just two weeks after opening. In 1983, the grounds were purchased by Cornwall Council and were developed as a Country Park which is now the largest area of woodland in West Cornwall.

  27. When you reach the signpost, turn right in the direction signposted "Coombe". Follow the path alongside the golf course (keep a lookout to the left for golf balls) and across a brook, then keep right to reach another signpost.

    Golf developed in The Netherlands during the Middle Ages and was introduced into Scotland towards the end of this period where it evolved to its present form. The word golf is thought to be a Scots alteration of Dutch colf meaning "club". Golf is first documented in Scotland in a 1457 Act of the Scottish Parliament, prohibiting the playing of the games of gowf and futball as these were a distraction from archery practice.

  28. Turn left in the direction signposted to Coombe and follow the path to reach a junction of paths at a signpost.

    Badgers are most closely related to otters and weasels, but are omnivores and often catch their food by burrowing after it. Up until the 1950s, somewhat prior to the Gastro-pub revolution, many Westcountry pubs had Badger Ham on the bar!

    Due to their relatively large body size, badgers are susceptible to the same pathogens as domestic livestock, and so badgers and cattle can catch tuberculosis from each other. In recent years, there has been controversy over badger culling as an attempted means to control the spread of bovine TB. The conclusions of the scientific trials of 2007 were that badger culling was not effective. One reason is that culling creates vacant territories and causes other badgers to roam more widely, continuing a spread. In 2010, a TB vaccine was produced which is hoped will prove more effective than culling, as a band of vaccinated badgers will act like a firewall, blocking a spread.

  29. At the signpost, continue ahead (signposted Coombe) until you reach a kissing gate on your left with a "Private Property - No Access" sign opposite a track departing to the right.
  30. Turn right onto the track and follow this past one waymarked junction to the right (with a bench) to reach a second waymarked junction to the right (with green and red arrows).

    The beech woodland of the North Cliffs plantation has an impressive display of bluebells in the spring. Along the edges of the woods, strong, salt-laden winds have stunted the trees and made them bend away from the prevailing south westerly winds. The woods also include exotic tree species such as a huge monkey puzzle tree and Japanese maples which were planted around 200 years ago as part of the formal gardens.

  31. Turn right and follow the path until it ends at a gate leading into the car park.

    To support their massive weight, trees produce a biochemical compound called lignin which has a cross-linked polymer structure that makes it very rigid. Because it's so tough, most fungi and bacteria are unable to break it down. The main fungus that has worked out a way to do it is known as white rot.

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