Praa Sands to Trewavas Mine

A circular walk from Praa sands across Rinsey Head to the engine house of the ironically-named Wheal Prosper, and Trewavas mine where an engine house now forms part of the path

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The walk begins along the low cliffs behind the beach then gradually climbs on the coast path to Rinsey Head to reach Wheal Prosper. The route then follows the rugged cliffs to the engine houses of Wheal Trewavas. Here, the walk turns inland, following miners' paths to Rinsey and then returns over the fields towards Praa Sands. The final stretch is along the length of the beach if the tide is out.

Considerations

  • Several stiles on this route are stone footholds over walls. Some of the walls are 4-5ft high.
  • For the last direction, access onto the beach is over boulders. This can be avoided by following the high tide route via the lane.
  • Note that most coastal walks in Cornwall have paths close to unfenced cliffs.

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Vital statistics

  • OS Explorer: 102
  • Distance: 4.4 miles/7 km
  • Steepness grade: Moderate
  • Recommended footwear: walking boots

OS maps for this walk

OS Explorer 102 OS Explorer 102 (laminated version)

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

Highlights

  • Sandy beaches at Praa sands and Porthcew
  • Engine houses at Trewavas and Rinsey Head
  • Good chance of seeing choughs

Adjoining walks

Directions

  1. In the beach car park head towards the sea to the left corner of the car park. Walk up the gravel pedestrian path with a wooden fence into the field used as an overflow car park. Follow along the fence above the dunes to a gap into the next field.

    Pengersick is the original settlement above Praa Sands beach and was recorded in 1197 as Pengersiec. The name is from the Cornish for "top of the reeds" (which is presumably all there was on the cliffs at the time). There are also records of a 14th Century mansion and chapel.

    A fortified manor, known as "Pengersick Castle", was built in 1510, probably to defend against raids from pirates. When the male line of the family died out, ownership of the house was divided between six daughters the complexity of which caused it to fall into disuse. During the 18th and 19th Centuries, much of the stone from the house was re-used for farm buildings but the three-storey tower still survives.

  2. Go through the gap and continue following along the fence to reach a junction of paths where steps lead down to the beach.

    Before the 20th Century, the settlement of Praa Sands didn't exist. In the early 1900s, area above the cliffs was grass with some disused mine workings and on the hill above this was fields. By 1909, the first houses are recorded near the footpath from Hendra Lane. After the First World War was over, during the 1920s, it became a popular holiday resort with a holiday camp. By 1930, the settlement of "Prah Sands" (as it was spelt then) was firmly established.

  3. Turn left and follow the path past the memorial to a waymark at a junction where the path becomes surfaced.

    The memorial by the beach is in remembrance of a remarkable event that occurred at Praa Sands during the Second World War. In 1943, a Sunderland flying boat (a seaplane used for patrols) - crewed by 9 Australian airmen and 2 from the RAF - was searching over the Bay of Biscay for survivors from an airliner that was shot down the previous day. During the search, the flying boat was attacked by 8 German fighters. One RAF crewman was killed, most of the other crew were injured and one of the plane's engines was destroyed along with its radio. Nevertheless, the pilot managed to limp the damaged plane 350 miles back to the Cornish coast and beach it at Praa Sands. The residents of Praa Sands took the crew into their houses to give them medical assistance. Two months later, the crew - with the exception of the pilot - were sufficiently recovered to be back in operations in a new plane and were all killed in an attack by 6 German fighters over the Bay of Biscay. The memorial was unveiled in 2013 and marks the point on the beach where the plane landed.

  4. Turn right at the waymark and follow the path to a waymark in a grassy area where a number of paths meet.

    Alexanders are very salt tolerant so they thrive in Cornwall's salty climate. They are just as likely to be found along coastal footpaths as along country lanes. New growth appears in the autumn so during the winter, when most other plants are dormant, it is a dominant source of greenery along paths and lanes in exposed coastal areas.

  5. Continue ahead on the waymarked path and follow this until it ends in a few steps onto a lane.
  6. Turn right onto the lane and follow it to a wooden coast path sign at a junction between the lane and a short strip of tarmac leading downhill.

    During winter, from November to March, winter heliotrope is visible along the edges of roads and paths as carpets of rounded heart-shaped leaves.

    From mid November to January, the plants produce spikes with pale pink scented flowers. The scent resembles marzipan i.e. almond and vanilla.

  7. Bear right downhill on the strip of tarmac and turn left onto the first path to the left (just before the bottom). Follow the path past the information board to some steps where there is access to the beach.

    The purple flowers resembling a miniature pansy that you see along the footpaths from March to May are almost certainly dog violets, so-called because they are unscented (rather than scented of dog) to distinguish them from the sweet violet. The plants are able to thrive both in shade and full sun, so are found in grassland and hedgerows as well as woodland. Sweet violets prefer shade, so if you do encounter these it will most likely be in woodland, but the dog violets are more common even in this habitat.

  8. Continue ahead on the coast path and follow it to a junction with another path.

    During late winter or early spring, if you encounter a patch of plants with white bell-shaped flowers, smelling strongly of onions, and with long, narrow leaves then they are likely to be three-cornered leeks. Once you're familiar with their narrow, ridged leaves, you'll be able to spot these emerging from late October onwards.

    The plant spreads to form dense colonies, crowding-out native species. The onion-flavoured seeds are very attractive to ants who carry them quite large distances and forget some of them, allowing the plant to colonise new areas. In fact three-cornered leeks are so invasive that they are illegal to plant in the wild.

    Sea beet has been cross-bred with domesticated crops to re-introduce some of the disease resistance from the tougher wild plant that were lost in the domesticated plants. It is also able to withstand quite high sodium levels in the soil which allows it to grow in salty conditions on the coast.

  9. Bear right towards the metal sign and follow the path through a gap in the wall and up a few steps. Continue to pass a mineshaft and reach a "Coastal Path" sign where a small path departs to the right.

    Shafts which are fenced and completely open are one of the favourite nesting places of bats and the Cornish chough. Therefore resist the temptation to drop stones down the shafts otherwise you may unknowingly be stoning bats or chough chicks to death.

  10. Stay on the main coastal path and follow this until it ends on a gravel driveway where this meets a tarmacked lane into a car park.

    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.

  11. At the end of the path, bear left a couple of paces along the track to a junction with a lane then turn right to walk through the car park towards the information board and reach a gateway with granite posts.

    The path leading downhill after the gate goes to the 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.

  12. Go through the gateway and follow the (upper) path to the engine house. Continue past it for a few paces to reach a fork in the path.

    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.

  13. Bear right at the fork and follow the path downhill. Continue on the path along the coast to reach a few steps leading through a gap in a wall between NT Rinsey Cliff and NT Trewavas Cliff signs.

    Cornwall's iconic engine houses were built to house huge beam engines - a type of steam engine with a pivoting beam. This configuration was particularly suited to powering pumps to stop the quarry pits and mines from flooding as water trickled into them from above. Inside the engine house, steam from a boiler would push up a piston, causing the beam to tilt downwards, pushing the pump down into the shaft. The steam would then be shut off and cold water would be used to condense the steam within the piston back into water, creating a partial vacuum. Atmospheric pressure then pushed the piston back down into the vacuum, raising the beam and lifting water out of the shaft. The valves to apply the steam and cold water were mechanically automated, maintaining a steady rocking motion of the giant beam.

  14. Climb the steps and follow the path to reach another gap in a wall.

    In marshes, micro-organisms thrive in the wet mud and use up the supply of oxygen. To survive being partially buried in mud with low oxygen levels, many marsh plants have therefore evolved snorkels: air channels in the stem which allow oxygen to reach the base of the plant. This is why the leaves of reeds feel spongy.

  15. Go through the gap and turn left. Follow the path to a fork with a small waymark post.

    As you cross over the wall, the ring of stones to the right of the wall ahead is Trewavas Cairn.

    On Trewavas Head is a Bronze Age burial chamber surrounded by a ring of stones. In the 19th Century, it was excavated by a local miner (who was convinced he'd find his fortune there) which destroyed much of the archaeological integrity. Nevertheless, excavations in the 1960s found some water-worn pebbles which had been part of the burial. Similar ones have been found at other burial sites in Cornwall but their significance is a mystery.

    More about Trewavas Cairn.

    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".

  16. Keep left at the fork and follow the waymarked path to a junction of paths beside some boulders with another small waymark post just before it.

    During the breeding season (beginning of April to the end of June), chough eggs and chicks are very vulnerable to predators (including dogs) and many young birds die in their first 6 months. You can make a substantial difference to their chances of survival and to increasing Cornwall's chough population by keeping dogs on leads along the coast and also by avoiding naming exact locations if you post photos on social media during this period.

  17. Turn right and follow the path towards the engine house to where the path forks to go uphill, about 20 metres after two wooden posts on the right.

    The Greater Black-backed Gull is the largest member of the gull family and a bird of formidable size, with a wingspan of nearly 6ft. Unlike other gulls, the Greater Black-backed Gull is highly predatory. Young birds are a significant portion of its diet and it tends to live amongst other seabirds where it can eat the neighbours. It has also been known to swallow whole rabbits and even eat young lambs. It often steals food from other seabirds using its large size to intimidate them into dropping it, and consequently it is sometimes referred to as a pirate.

  18. Keep right at the fork to follow the path leading through the engine house ahead. Continue past the chimney to where the upper path rejoins.

    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.

  19. Turn left onto the upper path and follow this back to where the paths merge. Continue retracing your steps to reach the junction with the boulders.

    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.

  20. Keep right at the junction to follow the raised grassy track. Continue to a bend with a gate across the track and two more gates to the left of this.

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

    During the summer months, stonechats eat invertebrates. As temperature drop and there are not so many of these about, they make do with seeds and fruit such as blackberries. Quite a few die in cold winters but this is offset by their fast breeding rate during the warmer months.

  21. Cross the stone stile between the two gates on the left then follow along the wall on the right to reach a stile (stone footholds) at the end of the wall.

    English Stonecrop grows as a mat in rocky places and is recognisable by star-shaped white or pale pink flowers. This is now being actively encouraged to grow on roofs in eco-housing projects to provide insulation.

    The leaves turn pink in dry conditions when moisture to move nutrients around the plant is limited. This causes sugars created by photosynthesis to build up in the leaves. At high concentrations, these react with proteins in the sap to produce red anthrocyanin compounds. This is the same process that causes autumn leaves to turn red when the plant cuts off supplies to the leaf.

    Granite is pretty hard stuff. It ranks at 7 out of 10 on the Mohs hardness scale. It's harder than normal steel but not quite as hard as hardened steel (which is 7-8). Cutting on granite worktops is therefore not a good idea as knife blades become blunt quickly.

  22. Climb the footholds and walk a couple paces along the wall to another (single) foothold. Carefully make your way down and follow the path to an open area. Keep right on the path alongside the wall and follow this to a kissing gate.

    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.

  23. Go through the gate and follow the path which opens out into a track between houses. Continue to reach a tarmac lane.

    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. Turn left onto the lane and follow this to a junction. Continue to pass alongside a building with a postbox on the corner. Continue a couple more paces from the postbox to a track on the left before Candlelight Cottage.

    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.

  25. Turn left and follow the track between the walls into the field. Follow along the right hedge to pass an opening into another field and reach a stone stile with a wooden post, roughly 30 metres to the right of the telegraph pole in the far hedge.

    Postboxes are a Victorian invention. The first pillar boxes were erected in the 1850s and by 1857, the first roadside wall boxes were in place. Early postboxes were green and it wasn't until 1874 that some in London were painted red. Over the next 10 years this was applied elsewhere. Postboxes are initialled with the reigning monarch at the time which allows them to be approximately dated. For example Edward 7th (marked as E VII) was only on the throne for 10 years so these date from the 1900s before the First World War.

  26. Climb the stile and cross the field to a stone stile with two wooden posts in the wall opposite located roughly half-way between the telegraph pole and gateway.

    The association of good luck with four-leafed clover was first recorded in Victorian times (1860s-1870s) so may be a relatively recent invention. Perhaps something that occupied children for hours was seen as good luck in Victorian times!

  27. Cross the stile and bear left to left corner of the far hedge to reach an opening into next field.

    The nearest headland is Hoe Point. The buildings on the cliff behind this are at Prussia Cove. The headland in the middle is Cudden Point. Behind this is Penzance with Newlyn near the end. Further to the left is Mousehole and then furthest to the left is Tater Du with the lighthouse.

  28. Go through the gap and walk past one opening on the left to reach a second opening immediately after this. Go through this second one and once in the field, bear right to follow along the hedge on the right. Continue all the way along the hedge downhill to reach a stile in the corner.

    In the spring and summer you may hear skylarks over the fields.

    Skylarks are the most common member of the lark family in Britain and are often known simply as "larks".

    The phrase "up with the lark", used to describe early risers, dates back to at least the 16th century. Skylarks are the first birds to sing in the dawn chorus, often whilst it's still dark.

  29. Cross the wooden and stone stiles and turn left onto the lane. Follow the lane to the bottom of the hill until you reach the wooden coast path sign where you turned onto the coast near the start of the walk, opposite the first house you reach on the right.

    Comfreys are a genus of flowering plants in the borage family. Common comfrey is native to the UK and has cream, pink, purple or blue flowers. Also now even more common than common comfrey is Russian comfrey, formed when common comfrey hybridises with prickly comfrey - an introduced Asian plant. This tends to have bluer flowers than common comfrey but the colour is still quite variable.

    Although the plant's medicinal use in classical and mediaeval times gave rise to common names such as "knitbone", it has been found to contain compounds which are toxic to humans with the potential to cause liver damage and cancer. Being hit by another axe was probably of more immediate concern in mediaeval times.

    For bumblebees, it's an excellent source of nectar.

  30. Unless the tide is very high, it's possible to walk back along the beach: turn left and follow the path downhill past the beach information signs to the steps onto the beach, then walk back along the top of the beach to the car park. If the tide is too far in: follow the lane ahead until you reach the coast path sign and retrace your steps along the waymarked coast path to reach the car park.

    The beach is a mile long stretch of golden sand with some boulders near the high tide line at either end. It's reputed to be the best surf beach on the south coast - its location west of The Lizard means it gets the large swells coming around the corner from the Atlantic that have also made Porthleven a popular storm watching spot. The cliffs are unstable - prone to falling stones and collapses - so sitting directly underneath them is unwise.

    West Cornwall locals pronounce it "pray", and "prah" is frowned upon although is likely to be closer to the sound of the original Cornish name. It was recorded in 1331 as Polwragh (witch's cove) but Cornish place names expert Craig Wetherhill points out it could actually be "wrasse cove" as the word for wrasse and witch is the same in Cornish. The rocky headlands are an ideal habitat for wrasse.

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