Portreath to Tobban Horse

A circular walk along the rugged coast from Portreath towards Porthtowan passing small coves and remnants of the clifftop mines beside the old RAF base, and returning via the horse-drawn tramway that brought fortune to Portreath harbour, where its "lighthouse" and "monkey house" remain from the shipping activity.

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The walk follows the coast path from Portreath towards Porthtowan passing the small coves and remnants of the clifftop mines. The route turns inland at Tobban Horse and follows small lanes across Nancekuke Common. The walk then joins the Mining Trail back to Portreath which was once a tramway along which goods were moved by horses between the port and the mines near Camborne. The last leg is past the harbour and lighthouse.


Absolutely amazing walk! Very strenuous but well worth it for the views. Great directions and historical overview. 66 steps down, 66 steps up, then another 66 steps up so the gentler walk inland back to the pub was very welcomed. Great app. Will certainly do this walk again and highly recommend it.

Vital statistics

  • OS Explorer: 104
  • Distance: 6.8 miles/10.9 km
  • Grade: Strenuous
  • Start from: Lighthouse Hill car park
  • Parking: Lighthouse Hill car park TR164LH. In Portreath, turn between the bus stop and the anchor outside the Portreath Arms Hotel and follow Lighthouse Hill to the car park.
  • Recommended footwear: Walking boots

OS maps for this walk

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


  • Rugged coastline overlooked by the "lighthouse"
  • Wildflowers and wildlife on the coastal heath and along the wooded tramways
  • Mining heritage and minerals on the waste tips
  • Sandy beach at Portreath

Pubs on or near the route

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

Adjoining walks


  1. In Lighthouse Hill car park, head for the coast path signpost and go through the gap in the wall to the right of the bench. Bear left onto the coast path and follow this around the headland until you reach a gate with an MOD sign.

    The wartime buildings are the remains of RAF Portreath.

    RAF Portreath was opened in March 1941 as a base for bombing raids against the occupied French Channel ports and fighter escorts for shipping convoys. Later in the war it became the main "jumping off" point for equipment headed south. The airfield was closed in 1946 and taken over by the Ministry of Supply where it was used a secret base for chemical weapons manufacture. Long after its closure in the late 1970s, it emerged that former workers there had died of exposure to the nerve gas, Sarin. As a precautionary measure, a large cleanup operation was mounted in 2000, though no residues of toxic materials were found to be remaining.

  2. Go through the gate and follow the path down into the next valley to reach a footbridge.

    The Sea Campion flowers from June to August and can be recognised by the white petals emerging from the end of a distinctive inflated envelope. Their grey-green leaves are fleshy, which protect them from drying out in salt-laden winds.

    According to folklore, to pick a Sea Campion was to invite death. This might be something to do with the precipitous locations in which they grow! Consequently another name for the plant is "dead man's bells".

  3. Cross the footbridge and climb the steps. Follow the path past a pair of waymarks just past a small white building. Continue for a further half a mile until you eventually reach a waymark beside an inlet and an "MOD Property Keep Out" sign.

    Thrift is a tough plant, able to withstand salt-laden winds and high levels of copper in the soil from mining. The name "thrift" has been suggested to arise from the plant's tufted leaves being economical with water in the windy locations where it is found. It's common all along the Cornish coast and in April-June produces pale pink flowers, hence its other common name: "Sea Pink". The plant grows in dense circular mats which together with its covering of pink flowers gives rise to another less common name: "Ladies' Cushions".

  4. Keep right as indicated by the waymark and follow the path past a waymark by the fence to the next waymark at a fork in the path.
  5. Keep right at the waymark and follow the path to another pair of waymarks.

    Heather plants can live up to 40 years. Heather plants have a symbiotic relationship with fungi which grows inside and between some of the plant root cells. Up to 80% of the root structure can be made up of fungi. The fungi are able to extract nutrients from poor, acidic soils that plants struggle with. Conversely the plant is able to generate other nutrients that are useful to the fungi by photosynthesis.

  6. Keep right and follow the path along the fence and down to the bottom of the valley to a crossing over the stream beside the remains of a stone building.
  7. Bear right over the footbridge across the stream and continue past the capped mineshaft to another stream crossing, after which the path forks.

    Wheal Sally was situated on the east side of Kerriack Cove and Bottom Shaft was sunk to a lode containing zinc and lead, both as sulphide ore and also in metallic form. A drainage adit runs from the shaft to a hole in the cliff, just above the beach.

    When the biological weapons programme at Nancuke ended, waste materials were disposed of in one of the side shafts connecting to the adit. Given how water drips down the shafts into the adit and then runs out onto the beach, the potential flaw in this strategy should be apparent. Fortunately, after an extensive clean-up operation was carried out, no traces of hazardous materials were found. The adit is now blocked by a very substantial grille.

  8. After crossing the stream, take the right-hand path and then follow the steps up the headland to reach a waymark at the top. Follow the waymarked path past an enclosed mineshaft on the point to reach a kissing gate.

    The rectangular structure on the point north of Kerriack Cove is a cover over Kite's Shaft, part of the Wheal West tin mine which extracted the ore casseterite. If you look through the bars, you can see down the shaft. Please resist the temptation to drop stones down the shaft as bats nest down there - being hit by a rock and knocked down a mineshaft whilst you sleep is not a good way to start the morning.

  9. Go through the kissing gate and take the left-hand path. Follow the path between the remains of the buildings to rejoin the upper path along the fence. Continue past a field gate and some more capped mineshafts to reach a waymark.

    The chimney on the coast between Portreath and Porthtowan was part of the mines here that worked several lodes of tin and copper. Close to the chimney there were originally 2 separate mines known as Wheal Sterran and Wheal Tye which together had four shafts known as Eastern, London, Caroline's and Vivian's plus some others of unknown name. The raised box near the chimney covers Vivian's Shaft and some nice samples of ores have been found on the waste dumps below this.

  10. Continue ahead from the waymark and follow the path along the wall to reach a gate.

    The large triangular rock on the beach below is known as Tobban Horse. The beach stretching beyond this is Porthtowan.

    The name means something along the lines of "beach with sand dunes". During the 20th Century, dunes have suffered erosion from large numbers of beachgoers. To help restore the dunes, residents donated their Christmas trees and these have been buried in the dunes to help hold the sand in place and give vegetation a chance to re-establish.

    At low tide, a number of coves join together to form a mile-long sandy beach, and on a low Spring tide it's just possible to walk all the way to Chapel Porth along the beach.

  11. Go through gap on the left of the gate and turn right in the direction of the red arrow on the waymark. Follow the track until it ends on a lane.

    Public byways are rights of way down which motor vehicles may be driven depending on how brave you are and how expensive your car is to fix. You are also permitted to use a horse-drawn carriage, should you own one. Byways tend to be surfaced in an ad-hoc manner either with gravel or occasionally with a smattering of tarmac, but still leaving plenty of room for a good crop of grass to grow down the centre. They are conventionally marked using red waymarks or a "Public Byway" sign. There are 130 miles of byways in Cornwall.

  12. Turn right onto the lane and follow it to a gate.

    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.

  13. Turn left at the gate and follow the lane along the fence. Continue until the lane ends at a T-junction.

    Hawthorn grows along the hedgerows providing shelter for small birds.

    The hawthorn tree is most often found in hedgerows where it was used to create a barrier for livestock, and in fact haw was the Old English word for "hedge".

  14. Turn right at the junction and follow the lane until it also ends at a T-junction.

    The hill in the distance is Carn Brea, on top of which is the Basset Monument.

    The 90ft high Celtic cross on the top of Carn Brea was erected as a monument to Francis Basset and is inscribed "The County of Cornwall to the memory of Francis Lord de Dunstanville and Basset A.D. 1836."

    Basset gained the title of Baron for defending Plymouth from the combined fleet of the French and Spanish in 1779, and calming a miners' food riot in 1785. Towards the end of his life, he was part of the group who petitioned the House of Lords against slavery in 1828.

  15. Turn right and and follow the lane until a few metres before it ends in a T-junction where a small lane departs from the right by the postbox.

    The building on the skyline to the left of the Basset Monument is Carn Brea Castle.

    Carn Brea Castle is on the site of a 14th Century chapel dedicated to St Michael. In the 18th Century it was rebuilt as a hunting lodge for the Basset family in the style of a castle. During the 1950s to the 1970s the building fell into disrepair but was renovated from 1975-1980 and is now in use as a restaurant. There are panoramic views which include St Ives Bay and the coast around Portreath. Consequently, from the sea, the building is a clear landmark and formed an important beacon for shipping: a lease from 1898 stipulates that the tenant must maintain a light in a north-facing window.

    More about Carn Brea Castle

  16. Turn right down the narrow lane beside the postbox and follow it to a junction of tracks outside Laity Vean.
  17. Join the small path ahead, passing through the gate, and follow it until it ends at a gate onto a lane.

    Copper ore required large amounts of coal to smelt it so it was shipped from ports on the Cornish coast to South Wales. In 1800, it was estimated that 15,000 mules were used in the copper trade in west Cornwall. They required a regular supply of fodder and when the cost of this increased during the Napoleonic War, it caused difficulties for the mining industry. The transport problems were solved by a set of tracks built between Portreath and the mines near Scorrier for horse-drawn wagons, which were extended in 1815 to Poldice mine. The wagon wheels ran along L-shaped cast iron tracks known as "plates", and the smooth-running wagons allowed much more material to be moved per horse.

    There is a replica wagon in Greenfield Gardens.

  18. Carefully cross the lane to the path opposite and follow it until it joins a track at a waymark.

    In the early 1820s, a young man called John Taylor obtained the lease on abandoned mines in the Gwennap parish, and after re-working some of the old deposits, discovered what was at the time the richest copper deposit in the world. Initially, the ore was shipped from Portreath but the transportation fees started to grow as news of John Taylor's good fortune spread. This greed backfired, as in 1824, John Taylor built his own tramway through the Carnon Valley to Devoran, and Devoran began to take over from Portreath for servicing the mines in the Redruth and Camborne area.

  19. Bear left onto the track and follow it past the cottage to a sign to Portreath. Turn right up the path indicated by the sign and follow the path through some waymarked gates. Once the tramway resumes, follow it until it ends via a gate at a lane.
  20. Carefully cross the lane and follow the path opposite until it ends via a gate at a lane.

    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.

  21. Bear right onto the lane and follow the lower lane it until it ends beside the Portreath Arms in the village square.

    During Victorian Times, the pollution from the harbour and tin streaming in the river meant that Portreath was not a location of leisure. When the Portreath Arms Hotel was originally built in 1856, this was for use by those involved in commerce at the port. The first recorded Landlord lent out his brewing furnace to the Illogan Temperance Society for use at community gatherings, regattas and fairs... as a tea urn.

    The anchor outside the Portreath Arms is from the Escurial - a steamship that went aground in a storm after taking on water which eventually extinguished the boilers. After this she drifted helplessly onto the shore, grounding at Portreath. The people of Portreath rushed to the beach and managed to pull seven of the drowning crew from the breakers, saving their lives. One other crew member was rescued by the lifeboat, but the remaining eleven perished.

  22. Turn right in front of the pub and pass the anchor. Follow the lane (signposted "North Coast footpath") up Lighthouse Hill and around a bend to reach a coast path signpost.

    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.

  23. At the coastpath sign, stay on the lane to reach the car park and complete the circular route.

    The small tower overlooking the harbour is known either as the Pepper Pot or The Lighthouse but it never had a light. A notice over the door reads 'HM Coastguard Board of Trade' which gives an idea of its original purpose - as a lookout as well as a daytime navigation aid (daymark). It was built in the early 19th Century and originally had a door and window; the knob of granite on the top is for the weather vane.

Help us with this walk

You can help us to keep this walk as accurate as it possibly can be for others by spotting and feeding back any changes affecting the directions. We'd be very grateful if could you look out for the following:

  • Any stiles, gates or waymark posts referenced in the directions which are no longer there
  • Any stiles referenced in the directions that have been replaced with gates, or vice-versa

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