Portscatho to Pendower Beach circular walk

Portscatho to Pendower Beach

A circular walk along two miles of beaches around Gerrans Bay which were once used by Portscatho smugglers to land contraband and strewn with the wreckage of sailing ships that overshot Falmouth Harbour and ran aground on The Whelps reef.

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The route follows the coast path along the Roseland beaches of Porthcurnick, Porthbean and Pendower. The return route is through the coastal fields with wildflowers in spring to join a small lane leading to Porthcurnick Beach. The final stretch is past the Hidden Hut to Portscatho.

Considerations

  • Route includes paths close to unfenced cliff edges.

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Vital statistics

  • OS Explorer: 105
  • Distance: 4.4 miles/7 km
  • Steepness grade: Moderate
  • Recommended footwear: Walking boots, or trainers in summer

OS maps for this walk

OS Explorer 105 OS Explorer 105 (laminated version)

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

Highlights

  • Five beaches along the route
  • Numerous rockpools at low tide
  • Views across Gerrans Bay to Nare Head
  • Refreshments at the award-winning Hidden Hut

Pubs on or near the route

  • The Plume of Feathers

Adjoining walks

Directions

  1. Go through one of the gates of the car park and follow the path downhill to meet the coast path. Turn left onto the coast path and follow it to a gate. Go through the gate and follow the coast path along the right hedge of the field to reach a gate at the top of a flight of steps.

    Remains of ancient forests have been found at a number of beaches in Cornwall, from a time at the end of the last Ice Age when sea levels rose and flooded wooded areas. At Porthcurnick, during periods when the sea has shifted large amounts of sand off the beach, tree stumps have been seen projecting through the sand at low tide. Beneath the sand is a layer of clay which would have been below the leaf litter of the ancient forest floor and acorns and hazelnuts have been found embedded in the clay.

  2. Go through the gate and down the steps. If the tide is out, you can turn right down the steps and cross the beach to the lane opposite. Otherwise climb the steps ahead and follow the path around the back of Hidden Hut and the track via a gate to a lane.

    The Hidden Hut was formerly a National Trust beach café selling tea in polystyrene cups that was taken over in 2010 by a couple who have transformed it into possibly the most sought-after dining destination in the country. They still sell tea, ice cream, and home-made soup at lunchtime. However, when tickets for their evening feasts are released online, they sell out within minutes. Once, they were released at the same time as tickets for a Beyoncé concert, and the Hidden Hut sold out first.

  3. Go through the pedestrian gate, on the opposite side of the lane if you are coming from the Hidden Hut, or on the right if you are coming up from the beach. Follow this along the right-hand hedge of the field to where a path leads off to the right to the coastguard lookout.

    The coastguard lookout is run by the National Coastwatch Institution and is possibly their smallest lookout. When there are 3 people inside, someone needs to step outside if the chart needs turning over!

    The National Coastwatch Institution was set up to restore visual watches along the UK coastline after two Cornish fishermen lost their lives within sight of an empty Coastguard lookout in 1994. The first station - at Bass Point on The Lizard, where the fishermen had died - opened in December 1994. The organisation, staffed by volunteers, now runs 50 lookout stations around England and Wales.

  4. Keep left to stay on the coast path and follow this to a gate.

    The large headland on the opposite side of the bay is Nare Head, and the large offshore rock is known as Gull Rock. The headland in the distance behind this is Dodman Point.

    Nare head was known until the 16th Century as Penare, which still survives in the name of Pennare Farm; since then, the name for the headland has become shortened to "Nare". The name is from the Cornish word penn-ardh (pronounced "penarth") meaning promontory. Dodman Point was originally known by the same name.

  5. Go through the gate and climb the steps down from the wall. Follow the path, passing over two small stepped stiles over walls to eventually reach a gate.

    The bays either side of Nare Head contain a large number of shipwrecks. Many of these vessels were running for safety to Falmouth harbour from a storm but misjudged the narrow passage between the Manacles reef and St Anthony's Head. Once a sailing ship had passed on the wrong side of St Anthony's Head, it became trapped within the "lee shores" between Dodman Point at St Anthony's Head where there was no safe anchorage. The Whelps reef beside Gull Rock was particularly hazardous, with jagged rocks just below the surface.

  6. When you reach the gate, go through and follow the steps down to the beach. Turn left and walk a short distance along the top of the beach to where a waymarked path ascends.

    In the early spring, there is a nice display of snowdrops in the woodland and a little later into the spring, wild garlic can be found here.

    Snowdrops are one of the earliest plants to flower. They use energy stored in their bulbs to generate leaves and flowers during winter, whilst other plants without an energy reserve cannot compete. The downside to flowering so early is that pollinating insects are more scarce, so rather than relying exclusively on seeds, they also spread through bulb division.

    The speed with which the tide comes in or goes out follows a sine wave: slow at low tide, speeding up to the fastest at mid-tide (known as the "tide race", when currents are at their strongest) and slowing down again towards high tide. Thus high and low tides are also referred to as "slack tide" when tidal currents are at their minimum.

  7. Follow the path up from the beach, keeping right to stay on the coast path. Follow this past a waymarked path to the right a short distance further to reach a waymarked stile ahead.

    The three small beaches towards Pendower Beach from Porthcurnick are composed of coarse sand and shingle, with rock platforms exposed at low water, containing a number of rockpools. The two beaches closest to Porthcurnick and separated by Needle Rock are known collectively as Porthbean, which is a typically no-frills Cornish place name meaning "small cove". In the Roseland dialect, the unstressed "porth" is pronounced "per" so Porthbean is pronounced "Perbayn" locally. A third (unnamed) beach can be reached by crossing the rocks from Porthbean but note that it is cut off at high tide.

  8. Cross the stile and bear right slightly across the field to the gap near the bottom of the hedge opposite.

    Cornwall has the longest stretch of coastline of any county in the UK, stretching for roughly 400 miles around 80% of the county, and there are over 300 beaches. Wherever you are in Cornwall, you are never more than 16 miles from the sea, and from the majority of hills you can see it on a clear day.

  9. Go through the gap in the hedge and climb the steps beneath the blackthorn trees to emerge in a field at a waymark. Follow the right hedge of the field to reach a waymark and stile.

    The name "blackthorn" is just a general reference to the dark colour of the bark, rather than anything specific to do with the thorns which are not any darker than the rest of the wood. It's primarily a comparison with hawthorn where the bark is lighter (in fact hawthorn is also known as "white thorn" despite not having white thorns). Just to confuse things further, the flowers of blackthorn are whiter than hawthorn!

  10. Cross the stile and follow the path to a fork, where a flight of steps on the right leads down to the beach.

    Great tits are most easily identified by their territorial call in spring which is like a whistle followed by two chirps. They have a range of other calls and one theory is that the variation is used to give the impression to rivals that their territory contains several other birds. This is supported by data showing males with the greatest range of calls have more mating success.

  11. Continue on the coast path to reach a footbridge.

    Ivy is unusual in that it flowers particularly late in the year - from September to November - and therefore provide vital nectar for insects such as bees and moths. Ivy berries are an important winter food source for birds and will remain on the plant all the way through the winter until spring. The berries also have a high fat content so provide a dense source of energy at a time when animals need lots to keep warm.

  12. Cross the footbridge and the stile on the other side then follow the path along the right hedge. Keep following the right hedge until you eventually pass a footpath signpost and then reach a path through a gap in the hedge.

    The cove here is mostly rocky and known locally as Curgurrel Cove. A narrow channel of sand between the rocks provides a place where boats can be launched from the beach in calm conditions.

    Above the point is a large rounded hill with an earthwork named "Round House". The Cornish name for this was Crug Stefan and this became Anglicised as Creek Stephen Point.

  13. Go through the gap and keep following the right hedge to reach a kissing gate.

    The beach here didn't originally have a name until it gained a "Creek Stephen" label on maps due to a misunderstanding of the Cornish place names by Ordnance Survey cartographers.

  14. Go through the gate and follow the well-worn path across the field then keep right at any junctions to follow the path along the right hedge. Keep following the path along the hedge until you reach the large white house. Then follow the hedge inland to reach a waymark.

    Rabbits also help to keep the path trimmed.

    Rabbit teeth continue to grow throughout their lives as an evolutionary adaptation to eating grass which contains abrasive silica. Consequently pet rabbits fed a diet with insufficient hay often get problems with overgrown teeth. However, cut grass from a mower should not be fed to rabbits as it ferments more quickly then fresh grass (impact and heat from the blades causes bruising and wilting which releases the carbohydrates) which results in bloated bunnies.

  15. The walk continues to the left from the waymark, returning along the top of the field. First you may want to visit Pendower Beach by following the path through the gate ahead and turning right when you reach the lane, and retrace your steps to here to continue. Follow the path currently on your left to reach a crossing of paths in a field, just as an opening in the far hedge comes into view.

    Pendower beach joins with Carne beach at low tide to form a sandy beach that is roughly a mile long. There are numerous rockpools along the sides of the beach at low tide (below the car park at Pendower Beach and alongside Nare Head on Carne Beach).

  16. Keep right at the fork to exit the meadow through the gap at the top of the far hedge. Follow the path along the top hedge to eventually reach a gate.

    During early summer, early purple orchids flower here. Prior to flowering, the plants can be recognised by the black blotches on their leaves.

    The early purple orchid has a Latin name meaning "virile" which is in keeping with the word "orchid" coming from the Greek word for testicle (on account of the shape of the tuber).

    This particular species is the con-man of the plant kingdom, with brilliant purple flowers resembling those of other nectar-rich orchids. When the insects arrive and push through the pollen to investigate the promising flowers, they discover that the flowers contain no nectar.

    From geography lessons at secondary school, you'll probably know that wave-cut platforms form where waves hit the cliff face and create a wave-cut notch into which the cliffs above eventually collapse. The reason the cliffs are eroded faster than the platform below them is more in the realms of physics:

    • The energy from a wave is concentrated when it breaks against the cliffs; when waves are breaking onto the gently-sloping platform, their energy is more diffuse.
    • On the platform, the force from the waves is spread along the breadth of platform as the tide recedes. However, the cliff face usually takes a beating not just at the very highest point of the tide, but also for some of the time either side.
    • The tide rises and falls sinusoidally with time, in other words, it changes at its most slowly at high tide where it can spend a bit more time bashing the living daylights out of the cliff face.

    Nevertheless, the platform does slowly erode. At Porthleven it is estimated that the platform is eroding at a rate of 1mm every 5 years.

  17. Go through the gate and follow the path straight across the field to a gate.

    Unlike wheat, where the grains pop out fairly easily from their husks and simple threshing will release them, the husks of barley are firmly stuck to the grain. A mechanical dehulling process is used to free the grain which is then known as pot barley. This is often then steam-processed to remove the bran to create a polished form of barley grains known as pearl barley which contain less of the fibre. Despite being more expensive to produce, pearl barley seems to be sold at cheaper prices for human consumption than pot barley presumably due to higher levels of demand.

  18. Go through the sequence of gate/stile/gate then bear right slightly to cross the field approximately diagonally (following a worn path if there is one). Once you cross the brow of the hill, head to the right of the cottages to a waymarked gate in the hedge.

    Whilst ships were returning to England, often on a voyage of several months, merchants would explore the markets to find the best port to land the goods. They had no means of communicating with the ships whilst at sea, so ships were often told to sail for "Falmouth for Orders". Falmouth, being the first large port on The Channel, provided a "holding pen" for ships with incoming cargoes whilst their final destination was being decided and communicated. The ships were often badly in need of repair and supplies from their journey across the Atlantic so during the wait they could be restocked and patched up. It is thought the practice and possibly also the phrase originated in the late 17th century, soon after the Royal Mail Packet Station was established at Falmouth which involved relatively fast communications with London. Falmouth is still a major refuelling port. Ships are required to use low-sulphur oil in the English Channel to reduce emissions.

  19. Go through the gate and cross the stile then cross the field to the gateway opposite.

    The path across the fields and the lane follow a ridge of high ground above the coast. When smugglers operating from Portscatho were landing contraband on the beaches around the bay, they would position scouts on the high ground to look out for Revenue ships and raise a warning signal if one was spotted.

  20. Go through the gateway and follow the right hedge past the barns to reach a wooden gate onto a lane.

    The bushes along the hedge provide cover for small birds such as sparrows.

    There are 2 sparrow species in the UK but only the house sparrow is common in Cornwall. Since the 1970s the UK house sparrow population has declined to less than half with an even greater loss in urban areas. Consequently the house sparrow is now red-listed as a species of high conservation concern. The exact causes for the decline are not known although a number of likely factors have been identified. In the countryside a reduction in aphid populations due to changes in farming practices is thought to be significant whereas in urban areas a loss of suitable nesting sites and a more intense level of predation by cats may be significant. Since 2008 the population seems to have stabilised but no-one is quite sure why.

  21. Go through the gate and follow the lane ahead for roughly a mile until the lane ends on Porthcurnick Beach.

    To the right, the lane passes the remains of Dingerein Castle before joining the main road.

    Dingerein Castle is an Iron Age hillfort consisting of a central level area surrounded by a pair of concentric ramparts. It also has a small annex. The name is from the Cornish word dinas meaning fort or castle and so means something along the lines of "Geran's castle" as, according to legend, this was the castle of King Geran of Dumnonia. A 16th Century account mentions that an underground chamber, known as a fogou, was nearby but this has not been located.

  22. Retrace your steps, either across the beach or through the gate on the right and around the back of the Hidden Hut to reach the top of the steps on the opposite side of the beach, following the steps on the left to join the coast path back to the car park; Portscatho is just a short distance further along the coast path. Alternatively, at low tide, you can walk along the beach to Portscatho, crossing over a few ridges of rock between the areas of sand.

    The fishing port of Portscatho is named from the Cornish word skathow meaning boats, and is likely to have been uses for launching fishing boats since mediaeval times. The small harbour that you can see today was developed during the 18th and 19th centuries during the pilchard fishing boom. Two fish cellars were shown on a map from 1841 and a coastguard watch house on an 1880 map. An early 19th century boatman's shelter is still present, overlooking the harbour. At this time, it was a separate settlement from Gerrans where less marine activities such as blacksmiths shops were located.

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