Carn Galver to Men-an-Tol

A circular walk from the coast to the highest area of moor on West Penwith passing engine houses and prehistoric monuments and with spectacular heather in late summer

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The walk begins by climbing Carn Galver, home of a legendary giant and offering panoramic views. The route then follows moorland paths leading to the Four Parish Stone, the Merry Maidens stone circle, Ding Dong mine and Men-an-Tol. The descent from the moor is past the engine house on the other side of Watch Croft to meet the Coast Path which forms the return route to Carngalver mine.

Considerations

  • The climb up Carn Galver includes some scrambles over granite boulders.

Vital statistics

  • OS Explorer: 102
  • Distance: 5.5 miles/8.8 km
  • Steepness grade: Moderate-strenuous
  • Recommended footwear: waterproof boots in winter; walking shoes or trainers in summer

OS maps for this walk

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

Highlights

  • Prehistoric relics including Men-an-Tol and the Nine Maidens stone circle
  • Iconic engine houses of Carngalver and Ding Dong mine
  • Panoramic views from Carn Galver and Watch Croft

Adjoining walks

Directions

  1. Take the path leading uphill from the Carn Galver NT sign located in the small parking area on the opposite side of the road from the engine houses. Follow the path to reach a rock outcrop part-way up the hill.

    The name Carn Galver (sometimes written Carn Galva) is from the Cornish words karn (rock pile or tor) and gwelva (view-point), referring to the rocky crags at the top of the moor that overlook the coast.

  2. Continue on the path uphill to the large rock outcrop at the top.

    There are folk tales of a giant called Holiburn who was said to live amongst the rocks of Carn Galva. He was depicted as a very amiable and somewhat sociable gentleman and even married a farmers daughter resulting in somewhat tall offspring. He was also said to have had a human friend from Choone who used to visit to play quoits but the giant one day patted his friend farewell slightly too firmly and accidentally killed him.

  3. Follow the path around the left side of the outcrop and then up onto the top. Continue ahead, keeping the higher outcrops on your right to eventually pass between two rocks and emerge at the back of the outcrop with a path leading ahead along the ridge.

    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.

  4. Follow the path along the ridge a short distance until a path descends to the right.

    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.

    Closer to the horizon, the sky fades to a lighter blue. The scattered blue reaching you from the horizon has to pass through even more air than the blue reaching you from directly overhead. The molecules of gas have more chance to intercept and re-scatter the blue light in different directions so that less blue light reaches you.

  5. Turn right and follow the path down into the valley. Continue to meet a well-trodden path running along the length of the valley.

    The small blue pom-pom-like flowers have common names which include blue bonnets, blue buttons, blue daisy and Iron Flower but it is best known as sheep's bit. The name is said to originate because sheep enjoy eating it. Confusingly, it is sometimes known as "sheeps bit scabious", yet it is not at all closely related to the group of plants normally known as "scabious".

    Sheep's bit flowers are rich in nectar and are a favourite with bees and butterflies. The flowers are highly reflective to ultraviolet which is thought helps to attract insects. The reason that insects can see UV but we can't is that insects' eyes have colour receptors that are tuned to different wavelengths than ours but also the lens of the human eye blocks UV light.

    Stonechats are robin-sized birds with a black head and orange breast that are common along the Cornish coast all year round. They can often be spotted perching on dead sticks or brambles protruding above gorse and heather. Their name comes from the sound of the call which sounds like stones being knocked together.

  6. Turn left onto the path and follow uphill to reach a gate across the path.

    Tin mining has been carried out on the moors here since ancient times.

    Some of the earliest mining remains are shallow pits dug to home in on and then mine lodes (mineral veins) at the surface of the bedrock. These are known as shode workings as pits were initially dug to locate displaced fragments of ore within the soil known as shodes. Further pits were then dug to follow these fragments back to the main lode that they had broken off. Once the lode was located, it was worked using a line of pits along it.

    The adjective "shoddy" is thought to have been derived from shode, initially via the textile industry for recycling fragments of usable cloth from rubbish. Later, when garments made from this material were found to disintegrate, it came to mean "inferior quality".

  7. Go through the gate and follow the path a little further until it ends in a junction of paths with a granite boulder to the left.

    The boulder is known as the Four Parish Stone and marked the boundary between the parishes of Morvah, Zennor, Madron and Gulva. The rock was originally known as Meane Crouse, meaning "The Cross Stone", recorded in 1613. There is a faint cross (representing the meeting of the four parishes) carved into the surface.

  8. Turn left at the junction and keep left at the boulder to follow the path. Stick to the main path at any forks (most rejoin anyway) to eventually reach a stone circle.

    As you approach the stone circle, the square building on the skyline to the left is Rogers' Tower.

    Rogers' Tower is a folly built in the late 1700s as a destination for family outings by the Rogers family who owned nearby Treassowe Manor. It quickly fell into disuse: by 1817 was already in a state of decay and it was a ruin by the end of the 19th Century. Some repair work was done in 1960 and further restoration was carried out in 2002-3.

    More about Rogers' Tower

  9. From the circle, follow one of the converging paths ahead which merge into a single path. Continue on this until the path ends on a track beside a metal gate.

    No-one is quite sure how many stones were originally in the Bronze Age circle known as the Nine Maidens of Boskednan - certainly more than nine: estimates vary from 19 to 22. In 1754, 18 stones were documented, 13 of which were still standing. By 1825, 5 of these had fallen and 3 had disappeared. 11 stones remain, 6 of which are still standing.

    It's quite easy to get confused as there are four unrelated prehistoric stone structures in Cornwall known by the name Nine Maidens:

    • The Nine Maidens of Boskednan stone circle near Ding Dong Mine, West Penwith
    • The Nine Maidens, aka Virgin sisters, stone circle at Wendron near Redruth
    • The Nine Maidens stone circle near Fox Tor on Bodmin Moor
    • The Nine Maidens stone row near St Columb Major

    The theme also extends onto Dartmoor with a Nine Maidens stone circle on Belstone Tor.

    The association of standing stones with "maiden" (including the "Merry Maidens") may well stem from medn. Although the original Cornish word for stone was maen, in late Cornish this became medn. This is similar to pen becoming pedn in coastal place names in West Cornwall where Cornish was last spoken (names in East Cornwall were frozen earlier in time when Cornish stopped being spoken).

  10. Turn right onto the track and follow it past a grassy path to the right to a junction of several stony tracks and paths.

    Many of the folk names for standing stones such as the Hurlers, Pipers and Nine Maidens are based on petrification legends, which generally involve punishment for some form of Pagan fun such as dancing on a Sunday. It is thought that the early Christian Church encouraged such myths in an attempt to prevent old Pagan practices occurring at these sites.

    More about petrification myths.

  11. Take the first path to the right and follow it to the engine house. Then bear right from the engine house to reach a waymark for Mên-an-Tol at a junction of paths.

    There is thought to have been a mine on the site from ancient times but the visible remains including the engine house are from the 19th Century. The engine house - known as Greenburrow pumping house - was built in 1865. By the 1870s the mine was employing over 200 people. The tin price crashed in the mid 1870s and after failing to be sold at auction, the mine closed in 1877. In 1911, following a rise in the price of tin, pieces of ore from the mine dumps were re-worked and over 50 tons of tin concentrate were recovered by 1915.

  12. Take the left-hand of the paths ahead in the direction indicated for Mên-an-Tol. Follow the path to reach a gate and stile.

    The common name "foxglove" dates back many hundreds of years but the origin is unknown. The "gloves" almost certainly refers to the shape of the flowers, and the Latin name Digitalis (finger-like) is along similar lines. The curious part is the "fox" and many different suggestions have been made as to where it came from. It is likely that it is a corruption of another word; possibly "folks" which was once used to mean "fairies".

    Once rendered into a powder, the tin ore was separated from fragments of less useful rock, usually using water and taking advantage of the heavier tin ore sinking more quickly out of a suspension than the other minerals. The slurry was sometimes run slowly down an inclined wooden board: the heavier tin fragments would settle near the top and could be scraped off whereas the fragments of lighter rock could be discarded from the bottom, and the material in the middle could be recycled into the next batch. It's possible that the Cornish mining word for the waste sludge of rock fragments - gange - is the origin of the English slang word "gunge".

  13. Cross the stile or go through the gate and continue a short distance to where two paths lead ahead. Take the right-hand path and continue to reach a stream crossing the path.

    Rosebay willowherb is a tall plant with a spike of pink flowers in late summer which can often be seen beside paths and tracks. Their long leaves have a distinctive thin, white vein along the centre.

    The name "rosebay" dates from at least Tudor times and is thought to be based on loose resemblances of the leaves to bay leaves and the flowers to wild roses. The overall family are also known as "willowherbs" due to the resemblance of the leaves to willow leaves. The two names have since been brought together resulting in the slightly confusing duplicate description of the leaf shape.

    It is not fully understood what function the stone circles served, although excavation of some monuments has shown an association with burials. Some circles also appear to have been used to mark the passage of time and seasons, which is indicated by the alignment of stones with landmarks, to mark important solar or lunar events such as the sunrise and sunset at the winter or summer solstice. Where excavated, they have been found to date from the Late Neolithic to the Middle Bronze Age (2400-1000 BC).

  14. Leap over the stream and continue following the path to reach a grassy clearing with the Mên-an-Tol stones forming a "101" shape.

    Mên-an-Tol is Cornish for "the hole stone" and is thought to date from the late Neolithic or early Bronze Age. The accent on the "e" is for a long drawn-out vowel sound along the lines of "mehn" (do a sheep impression and add an "n").

    The overall arrangement with the two standing stones either side of the holed stone has been described as a three-dimensional 101 but this wasn't the case until one of the standing stones was moved in Victorian times to line them up.

    Local legend claims that at full moon, if a woman passes through the holed stone seven times backwards, she will soon become pregnant. The hole is not generous in size so the legend may have its roots in the preliminary slimming required to perform the ritual!

  15. Continue on the path from the other side of the clearing to reach a stile leading onto a track.
  16. Turn right onto the track and follow it to reach a fork.

    When you reach the metal gate on the left, the standing stone in the field is Men Scryfa. There is a stile into the field if you want to have a look but the rest of the field is surrounded by barbed-wire fences so you must return here to continue the route.

    The name Mên Scryfa means literally "stone with writing". This is a standing stone that is not prehistoric, dating from the early mediaeval period. It is inscribed in Latin with Roman capitals and reads "Rialobrani Cunovali fili" (Rialobranus son of Cunovalus). Rialobran is not known elsewhere but he may have been a Cornish tribal leader with a name based on the Cornish for "royal raven".

  17. Keep left and follow along the wall to reach a granite post with a National Trust map beside a gateway on the right and a small path leading ahead. Follow the small path between the hedges to reach another map on the right for Whitedowns Homestead.

    Large upright standing stones are known as menhirs due to the Celtic words men meaning stone and hir meaning long. The reason for their construction is unknown; currently the most popular theories are ceremonial. Excavations at some of the menhir sites in Cornwall have found evidence of postholes and pits, and areas of quartz paving. Also beneath some of the stones, charcoal and cremated human bone have been found.

    These charcoal deposits have been radiocarbon dated and found to be between the Late Neolithic and Middle Bronze Age and, until recently, menhirs were thought to associated principally with the Beaker people who inhabited Europe during the Late Neolithic and Early Bronze age (4-5 thousand years ago). Some recent research has suggested an older origin (perhaps 6-7 thousand years ago, at the very start of the Neolithic period in Britain). There is also evidence that some stones continued to be erected, or re-used, much later in the post-Roman "Dark Ages" (early mediaeval) period when some were also inscribed.

  18. Keep following the path ahead initially between the walls and then out onto open moor. Continue across the moor until you eventually reach a fork in the path.

    Watch Croft is the highest point in West Penwith at 252 metres (827 feet) but is only 4 metres higher than the rocky crags of neighbouring Carn Galver. Cornish place names expert Craig Wetherhill has researched the name and found it to be from its use as a lookout during the Napoleonic Wars. Before this it was known as Carn an Vyth which derives from the Cornish for "little cairn".

  19. Bear right at the fork and follow the path a short distance further to emerge onto a track. Turn right onto the track and follow this until you reach a gate with a small path leading ahead.

    Five hills in Cornwall are designated as Marilyn hills (coined to contrast with Munro - another geological term) which are local highest points, protruding above the surrounding land by at least 150 metres. They are: Brown Willy, Kit Hill, Watch Croft, Carnmenellis and Hensbarrow Beacon.

  20. Bear right off the track onto the small path leading ahead. Continue following the path leading downhill until it ends on a road.

    During the 18th and 19th Centuries, tin was extracted from the slopes of Watch Croft both using underground shafts and via deep pits from the surface. Mines included Morvah Hill mine (from which the fragment of engine house remains) and Garden Mine (where the cottage is located) which was formerly known as Wheal Osborne. The cottage is thought to have originally been the Count House (mine office).

  21. Turn right and carefully follow the road a short distance to a lay-by. Cross the road to the path opposite and go through the gate (or climb the stone stile to the left). Follow the path to reach a fork in the path just past a stone walled embankment on the left.

    The settlement of Rosemergy was recorded in 1327 when it was possibly also known as "Tremergy". The name Rosemergy is likely to be from the Cornish words ros which can either mean "moorland" or "promontory" and merghik, meaning "pony". The latter might have been used in a compound word such as mergh-jy, meaning "stable".

  22. Keep left at the fork and follow the path to reach a pedestrian gate.

    Bracken is both poisonous and carcinogenic to many grazing animals which will avoid it if at all possible. Eating bracken is not recommended as it is thought that the carcinogenic properties may also apply to humans based on the circumstantial evidence that Japan, where young bracken fronds are a delicacy, has the highest levels of stomach cancer in the world.

  23. Go through the gate and follow the path to reach a wall ahead with a granite gatepost. Follow the path along the wall until it ends in a junction with the coast path.

    The northwest-facing coastline of Penwith was particularly treacherous for shipping. The high cliffs along the coast prevented ships from being able to see the lighthouses at Trevose Head or the Longships. From Cape Cornwall, the wall of granite runs towards the rocks of the Wra, or Three Stone Oar, off Pendeen, some of which are just below the surface. The cliffs continue all the way to St Ives, and part-way along is the protruding Gurnard's Head which was another major hazard for shipping.

  24. Turn right onto the coast path and follow it to where the path squeezes between some upright granite stones beside a stone wall.

    During the 19th century, Trinity House became increasingly concerned at the number of ships being lost along the West Penwith coast and in 1891 decided that both a lighthouse and foghorn was needed here. The construction was a large-scale engineering project that involved levelling the top of the headland by creating a huge retaining sea wall, and consequently took a number of years. Pendeen Lighthouse was finally lit in 1900 and was manned until 1995. As well as the 17 metre tower to support the lamp, residential accommodation was built for the lighthouse keepers which even included enclosed gardens, although in the harsh maritime climate these didn’t turn out to be a huge success. Drinking water was collected on the flat roof of the accommodation block and stored in an underground tank. The original oil-fired lamp is on display in the Trinity House National Lighthouse Centre in Penzance. Although the optic weighed 2.5 tonnes, it was floated on a bath of mercury so it could be set in motion by the slightest touch.

  25. Squeeze through the gap and turn left to follow the coast path. Continue on the coast path to reach a gateway with two wooden posts.

    You may encounter choughs along this stretch of coast.

    The name "chough" is from the bird's call although this is not that accurate as "chough" is more like the sound a jackdaw makes (a very short "chu"). Locally, choughs were known as "chaws" which is a better representation of their (much longer) sound.

    The old Cornish name for the bird is Palores, meaning digger, which is thought to be a description of it rooting for invertebrates.

    The scientific name (Pyrrhocorax pyrrhocorax) means "fire crow" which is likely to be an allusion to its red bill and legs. This possibly also relates to the birds' mischievous reputation during the Tudor and Elizabethan periods for stealing lighted candles or embers and dropping these onto roofs, which were generally thatched in Cornwall at this time.

  26. Go through the gateway and continue on the coast path to descend into a valley, cross a tiny brook and reach a stone footbridge crossing the main stream.

    An Iron Age fort was situated on the headland of Bosigran. A wall roughly 100 metres in length has been built across the promontory, linking the cliffs, to enclose it. The size and the way it is constructed varies along its length from simple large stones in a line to drystone wall backfilled with rubble, indicating it has been repaired or modified since it was originally built. It's possible that it was later used to contain livestock to separate the two grazing areas either side of the wall running inland.

  27. Cross the stream and follow the path ahead to meet a cobbled path. Turn right onto this and follow it uphill to reach a gate into a field.

    The areas along the streams are good spots for dragonflies.

    Their two sets of wings beat out of phase, and the frequency, amplitude and the angles of each set of wings can be controlled. This allows dragonflies to hover in a completely stationary position for over a minute, perform extravagant aerobatic manoeuvres and even fly backwards.

    The remains of the building near the stream was originally a tin stamping (ore crushing) mill, powered by a waterwheel. The large, high wall alongside the wheel was built to create a splash shield so that water blown out of the wheel buckets by the wind would not disturb the settling tanks used to separate out the fragments of pulverised ore.

  28. Go through the gate or cross the stile and follow the path along the right edge of the field to a gap in the wall.

    The wildflowers in the fields such as catsear provide nectar for bumblebees.

    During flight, bumblebees beat their wings around 200 times every second. However, the buzzing sound they make is not from the beating wings but from the bee's vibrating flight muscles. On cold days, by using their flight muscles, the bees are able to warm up their bodies to temperatures as high as 30 Celcius.

    During the 1830s, one of the largest waterwheels ever built in Cornwall was constructed in the valley. It had a diameter of 60ft (roughly the height of a 4-storey building) and mechanical power was transferred from the wheel to a nearby mineshaft via an arrangement of flat rods for which a course over the ground was created. Water was delivered to the wheel along a leat from a reservoir created by damming the stream.

  29. Go through the gap and follow the right edge of the field to a gate and stile.

    In Celtic times, fields were small and surrounded by banks or stone walls. The fields were used both for growing crops such as oats, wheat or rye, and for keeping livestock. The field shape was round or square, rather than rectangular, so that the stones didn't have to be carried further than necessary. The small size was because they needed to be weeded by hand, in many ways similar to a modern-day allotment.

  30. Cross the stile and continue a short distance to a fork. Keep right and follow the path until you reach another fork just before the engine houses.

    The grassy paths are grazed by rabbits as well as cattle.

    The first record of slang word "bunny" being applied to rabbits in from the late 17th Century. Prior to this it was in use as a term of endearment, recorded in a 1606 love letter as "my honey, my bunny...". The origin of this pet name is thought to be a dialect word "bun" which was a general term for small furry creatures which did include rabbits but also applied to squirrels. The use of the word "rabbit" for chattering is from the Cockney rhyming slang for "talk" (rabbit and pork).

  31. Keep left at the fork to return to the car park.

    Carn Galver Mine operated until the late 19th Century extracting tin ore. The mine was very wet and was drained by an adit running down to Porthmoina Cove and from below this level, the engine house on which a chimney still remains was used to pump water from the mine. The other engine house was used for hauling up the ore and crushing it. The cottage beside the engine houses was formerly the Count House where miners would be paid. The mine didn't turn out to be very productive and became uneconomical, partly due to the cost of draining it.

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