Sennen Cove to Nanquidno circular walk

Sennen Cove to Nanquidno

A circular walk alongside the pristine beaches of Whitesand Bay, where huge shoals of mullet are still caught off the beach using the traditional seine nets in the way they have for hundreds of years.

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The route runs along the length of Whitesand Bay from Sennen Cove to Gwynver and at low tide can be done all the way along the white sand. The walk then follows the rugged granite coast around Aire Point to Nanquidno where granite boulders polished over millions of years by a prehistoric ocean were buried when sea levels fell and have since been unveiled by the eroding cliffs. The return route is along footpaths, tracks and small lanes via the mediaeval farmsteads of Nanquidno, Gurland and Escalls.


  • The path along the coast crosses granite outcrops and boulders which need climbing over/down.
  • Route includes paths close to unfenced cliff edges.

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Vital statistics

  • OS Explorer: 102
  • Distance: 5.2 miles/8.3 km
  • Steepness grade: Moderate
  • Recommended footwear: walking shoes, or trainers in Summer

OS maps for this walk

OS Explorer 102 OS Explorer 102 (laminated version)

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


  • Whitesand Bay - appropriately-named for the spectacular beaches
  • Granite boulders on Nanquidno beach sculpted by a prehistoric ocean
  • Coastal wildflowers

Pubs on or near the route

  • The Old Success Inn


  1. If the tide is out, make your way onto the beach and turn right to continue along the top of the beach until you reach the steps below the two black huts on the cliff ahead. If the tide is in, or you have a dog and the seasonal dog ban is in place, follow the Coast Path instead of walking along the top of the beach.

    Netting for mullet has been an important fishery at Sennen Cove for hundreds of years. In Edwardian times, up to 12,000 fish were caught at one time using seine nets hauled in from the beach. This traditional practice still continues and ten tonnes of mullet were caught in a single haul in 2015. However, the fishery has recently come under criticism as the fish aggregate in large shoals prior to spawning, and are caught before they are able to produce the next generation. It is, however, possible that the percentage of spawning fish caught by this method are sufficiently low that it is a sustainable practice. It is also possible that in the future, approaches similar to the National Lobster Hatchery in Padstow might be possible to achieve the "best of both worlds" where the captured adults are allowed to spawn in controlled conditions before being harvested for food, and the young are released after the benefit of completing the most vulnerable stages of their growth in a safe environment, boosting stocks beyond the levels of "natural" spawning.

  2. At the bottom of the steps, turn left to follow the path leading ahead along the coast until you reach a sign for Gwynver beach, just before the lifeguard hut.

    There is a beach at Sennen Cove at all states of the tide but as the tide falls, a large area of white sand is revealed and the beach merges with Gwynver beach to form a mile of continuous white sand - hence the name Whitesand Bay (not to be confused with Whitsand Bay which is in southeast Cornwall, near Plymouth). The hard granite cliffs shed very little stone into the sand so it is formed predominantly from fragments of sea shells, particularly clam shells which are very pale in colour. The sand is similar at Porthcurno and Portheras Cove.

    In Cornish, the bay is known simply as Porth Senan (Sennen Cove). The bay is backed by nearly 100 acres of sand dunes, trapped between the headlands of Pedn-mên-du and Aire Point which form an important habitat for rare insect species.

  3. Continue ahead from the sign, then keep left below the lifeguard hut, onto the beach. Follow along the top of the beach until you reach the metal pipe crossing the beach just after the steps.

    Gwynver beach is the northern part of Whitesand Bay which is isolated as a separate beach as the tide comes in. It is also the area of the bay most exposed to prevailing southwesterly swells and consequently the gently-sloping sand is one of the best surfing spots in West Cornwall. The name Gwynver is said to be derived from "Gwynevere" from the Arthurian legend, but could equally be from the Cornish words gwynn (meaning "white") and berr (mutated to verr, and meaning "short").

  4. Cross over the pipe and continue up the sandy area to join a path leading towards the headland. Follow the waymarked path towards the end of the headland until you climb two wooden steps to and reach a fork in the path at a waymark.

    Beside the cliffs at the top of Gwynver beach, members of the public noticed human bones in the sand and the Police were called. The bones were that of a large male and are thought to be from the grave of a drowned mariner who was buried here in the 18th or early 19th Century. Two buttons made from bone were also found which are thought to be from the sailor's clothing. Before a law was passed in 1808, requiring sailors to have a Christian burial in a churchyard, drowned sailors were typically buried on the cliffs near where they had washed ashore.

  5. When you reach the waymark, you can optionally keep left (not right in the direction waymarked) to follow the path (with nicer views) around the edge of the headland and then rejoin the Coast Path. Then continue along the coast path until the path reaches a rugged, rocky point.

    The Hottentot Fig (Carpobrotus edulis), was once classified as a Mesembryanthemum but as plant genetics were better understood, was found to be a close relative but in a different sub-family of the larger ice-plant family. They are called ice plants due to hairs on the leaves which refract sunlight and make them sparkle. The plant is native to South Africa and was originally grown ornamentally in gardens but has subsequently gone feral and settled on the coastline where it thrives in sandy soils, helped by its resistance to wind and salt. It forms a dense mat which crowds out other species and is therefore considered invasive.

    Both Common Dolphins and Bottle-nosed Dolphins are quite frequently encountered off Cornwall. Bottle-nosed Dolphins are the species found in marine parks and are the saloon car of the dolphin world: quite large (adults are 7-12ft long), plain grey and tend to cruise at fairly low speeds though they can do short bursts of over 30km/h. Common Dolphins are their sports car cousins: a little smaller (adults are 6-8ft long) with a flashy hourglass-shaped "go faster" stripe of gold at the front and light grey at the back and can swim up to 60km/h. The considerable intelligence of dolphins includes the ability to learn new behaviours from each other and cooperate with other dolphins or even human fishermen to catch fish.

  6. As you approach the rocky point, the path splits. Follow the left-hand path (which has steps), climb over the boulders on the top, then continue following the waymarked coast path past one Nanjulian sign until you reach a National Trust sign for Nanjulian with steps on the left leading down to the beach.

    Red-and-black-spotted Burnett moths can often be seen feeding on nectar-bearing flowers alongside the coast path. The red colour is a warning that they contain hydrogen cyanide. The larvae normally create it by breaking down more complex cyanide compounds from the birdsfoot trefoil on which they feed. However they are also able to synthesise it themselves in environments where it isn't readily available from food plants.

    As a wave approaches the beach, the bottom of the wave (which extends as far below the water as the crest does above the surface) starts to get close to the seabed and this begins to slow the wave down. As it slows down, its energy is transferred into increased height and the result is more closely-spaced, taller waves. The bottom of the wave now extends even closer to the seabed and is slowed even more. Eventually, the top of the wave outruns the bottom and the wave breaks. More sudden changes to depth allow the wave to get taller and steeper before it has time to break which is why "reef breaks" attract surfers.

  7. Bear right to follow the path inland. Continue to merge onto another path and follow this until it ends on a track.

    The beach is known either as Nanquidno or Nanjulian beach. There are some grassy areas just above the rocky beach which make good picnic spots. According to some sources, the beach is reported as being sometimes popular with naturists. Given that the beach consists entirely of granite boulders, this seems unlikely to be comfortable, especially in strong sunshine when the rocks can get rather hot.

  8. Turn right onto the track and follow it until it joins a lane at Nanjulian Farm.

    The settlement of Nanjulian was recorded in 1428 as Nanshelen and is thought to be from the Cornish word elin meaning "elbow", as well as the word for "valley". The name perhaps refers to the bend in the course of the river and its associated valley near Nanjulian Mill where it turns to meet the sea.

  9. Follow the lane ahead until you reach a public footpath sign at the driveway to Gurland Farm.

    The settlement of Nanquidno was first recorded in 1327 as Nansgwynyou. The name is based on the Cornish words nans (valley) and gwynn (white).

  10. Turn right down the driveway and follow this until you reach a waymarked stone stile beside a gate on the left.

    The settlement of Gurland was recorded in 1314 as Gorlan. The original name is from the Cornish word cor-lann which means "fold" or "enclosure" which has undergone a consonant mutation from the soft "C" sound to the hard "G" sound.

  11. Cross the stile and head straight across the field to a stone stile in a gap in the wall opposite.

    Every part of the dandelion plant is edible and is high in Vitamin A and higher still in Vitamin K. The leaves can be eaten in salads, though their bitterness is not to everyone's taste. However, the bitterness can be reduced by blanching: drop the leaves into boiling salted water and remove after a minute and quench in ice-cold water to prevent the leaves from cooking.

    The collared dove is a fairly easy member of the pigeon family to recognise. The clue is in the name: they are pale with a thin black ring at the back of their neck.

    Before 1930, there were no collared doves in Western Europe and the most easterly part of their range was Turkey and The Balkans. Within just 20 years they colonised most of continental Western Europe and in 1955 they bred for the first time in Britain. They have since become one of the top 10 most common birds in British surveys.

    Their rapid spread seems to be down to both their ability to make epic journeys of over 400 miles and their ability to breed all year round if the weather is mild. They will even start building a new nest whilst there are still chicks in the current one, and take breaks to from incubating eggs in the new nest to nip back to the old nest to feed the recently fledged young. They feed on seeds and grain so arable farming has provided a supply of food.

  12. Cross the stile and continue ahead across the field to a waymarked stile on the skyline.

    The hill to the left is one of the two hills in Cornwall called Carn Brea. The more well-known one with the Basset Monument on the top is at Camborne. This one is close to Crows-an-Wra.

  13. Cross the stile and turn right. Follow along the right hand hedge to the corner of the field.

    Buzzards can often be seen (and heard) over the valley.

    Buzzards breed once they reach 2-3 years old. During their breeding season in spring, male buzzards create spectacular aerial displays to impress females by soaring high into the air and dropping suddenly towards the ground. The birds then pair for life.

  14. When you reach the corner, turn left to stay in the field and continue following along the right hedge to reach a track.

    One of the runways for Land's End Airport can be seen on the hill on the left.

    Land's End Airport was set up in the 1930s to support a route between the Scilly Isles to the mainland. Until 2014, all the runways were grass resulting in waterlogging problems in the winter. Two of the runways were tarmacked so they can be now used all year round.

  15. Join the track and follow it ahead until it meets a larger track at a waymark.

    On a calm day you may be able to see the wreck of the SS Beaumaris.

    The SS Beaumaris was torpedoed 2.5 miles northwest of The Longships in February 1918 by a German U-boat. All the crew apart from the captain and a radio operator left the ship in lifeboats and were guided into shore by the Sennen lifeboat. The captain managed to run the ship onshore in Whitesand Bay and the top of the wreck now breaks the surface at low tide.

  16. Join the track and keep following it to where it becomes a lane. Continue on the lane until you eventually reach a junction with a lane leading to the right, signposted Escalls, with a row of large granite boulders alongside it.

    A number of prehistoric implements were found during the 20th Century in the fields alongside the road including a stone axe head and a barbed arrowhead.

  17. Turn right the junction and follow the lane past the driveway to Wellfield Farm/Cottage and a short distance further to a flight of waymarked steps on the left.

    The Longships Lighthouse is located just over a mile off Land's End on the highest of the islets known as Carn Bras. The original tower built in 1795 was 40ft high, perched on the 39ft high rock but despite the lantern being nearly 80ft above the sea, it was sometimes obscured by the huge waves off Lands End. A new taller tower was therefore constructed starting in 1869 and completed in 1873 and was manned until 1988. The current lantern emits a white flash seaward, but red-tinted glass colours the light for any vessel straying to the headlands to the north or south.

  18. Climb the steps and follow the path between the fences to a pedestrian gate. Go through this then bear right to cross the gravel beside the house and reach a farm gate.

    The settlement of Escalls was recorded in the 13th Century as Eschall. It is thought to be based on the Cornish word als, meaning "cliff".

  19. Go through the gate and bear right (ignoring the track directly ahead) to where the track to the right forks. At the fork, take the left track leading past the gate of Manor Farm. Follow it past one waymark on the left beside a gate to reach a second waymark on the left beside a 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 possible that it is a corruption of another word. One suggestion is "folks" which was once used to mean "fairies".

    There are over 30,000 miles (more than the distance around the earth) of hedges in Cornwall, many of which are based on distinctive local styles of stone walling. Consequently, often what a Cornish person calls a "hedge", most people from outside the county do not recognise as a hedge, resulting in some foreign translation needed for walk directions.

    Around 50% of the hedgerows in the UK have been lost since the Second World War. Although intentional removal has dramatically reduced, lack of maintenance and damage from mechanical cutting techniques such as flailing are still causing deterioration of the remaining hedgerows.

    Some Cornish hedges are thought to be more than 4,000 years old, making them some of the oldest human-built structures in the world that have been in continuous use for their original purpose. They act as vital miniature nature reserves and wildlife corridors that link together other green spaces. This supports hundreds of species of plants and tens of thousands of insect species, many of which are vital pollinators for arable crops.

  20. Cross the stile and head across the field to the stile next to the gate opposite.

    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. Cross the stile and follow the left hedge to reach a stile next to the gate in the fence opposite.
  22. Cross the stile (or go through the gate if open) and follow the driveway downhill to reach a lane.
  23. Turn right onto the lane and then left down the track opposite Winchester Cottage, with two public footpath signs. Keep right to follow the track to a gate with a "No Vehicular Access" sign.

    Bamboo is a member of the grass family. Like grass, it can spread through underground stems. This combined with its dense growth makes it able to out-compete many other species. The largest species of bamboo can grow over 100ft tall!

  24. Go through the gate marked "No Vehicular Access". Follow the track until you reach a sign advising use of the footpath where the track is slippery. Follow the footpath downhill to reach a fork.

    In March 1967, the oil tanker Torrey Canyon tanker was on its way from Kuwait to Milford Haven with a full cargo of 120,000 tons of crude oil. The ship took a short-cut passing close to Land's End and struck the Pollard Rock on the Seven Stones reef. Attempts to refloat the tanker were unsuccessful and as it began to break up, the cargo of crude oil was released which at the time was the most serious oil spill and costliest shipping disaster that there had ever been. Despite efforts of the military to burn off the oil by dropping aviation fuel and forty-two 1000lb bombs (25% of which missed) onto the wreck, and incendiaries similar to napalm onto the slick, the oil contaminated 120 miles of Cornish coastline. Large amounts of dispersants were used to break up the oil which were themselves quite toxic. The environmental disaster resulted in the death of 15,000 seabirds, and tar from the spill could still be found on Cornish beaches during the 1970s and 80s. Ironically, the remains of ship in 30 metres of water have created an artificial reef which is now covered in kelp and is a haven for marine life.

  25. When you reach the fork, keep left and follow the main path downhill to where a rough track crosses it. Continue ahead across the track to the path opposite and follow it to re-emerge on the track. Follow this a short distance further past the cottages to a junction with the main track, opposite a sign for Sheldrake.

    The evening primrose family of plants originated on the American continent and were introduced into gardens in the UK in the 17th Century. They are colonising plants, capable of growing on sand dunes and waste ground and so some have spread into the wild. One plant can produce 150,000 seeds in a year.

    The flowers open in the late afternoon (hence the name) and last only one day. Their pollen is held together by threads which prevents day-flying bee species without the necessary specialisations from collecting it. This is targeted at moths which forage in the evening and are attracted using a lemony scent.

    The sandy soil along the coast is able to support plants more commonly seen on chalk downs such as cowslips, due to the sand being comprised of small fragments of shell (calcium carbonate). The majority of the soil in North Cornwall is acidic, particularly towards Bodmin Moor, so sand from the beaches was used extensively to improve the soil fertility for farming.

  26. Facing the Sheldrake sign, turn left and follow the track downhill to a sign for Sennen Cove, then bear left and follow the path between the houses and over a footbridge to reach a fork in the path.

    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".

    Whitesand Bay faces west so the sun sets over the sea from here.

    The sun looks white in space. Here on Earth it looks yellow because colours from the blue-violet end of the rainbow are scattered more so the rays of light reaching us directly from the sun are missing more of those colours.

    As the sun gets lower in the sky, its light passes through more of the atmosphere to reach you. Even more of its blue and violet light is scattered, so the colour of the sun goes further and further towards the red end of the rainbow.

  27. After the footbridge, keep right at the fork and follow the path to return to the car park and complete the circular route.

    The main Sennen Coastguard Station was built in 1812 and initially consisted of a row of eight houses, a fuel house and a store which housed the rocket cart and rescue equipment, close to the steps where the coast path climbs the headland. The Sennen station was closed after a reorganisation of the coastguard service in the early 1980s, and the Lands End coastguard service now operates out of Polgigga, on the main road to both Sennen and Gwennap Head.

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