St Anthony Fort to Porthbeor Cove circular walk

St Anthony Head (short version)

A walk on the Roseland coast and then into the Fal estuary to St Anthony Church via the fort St Anthony Head and the golden sandy beaches of Molunan.

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The walk starts from St Anthony Fort on the tip of the Roseland peninsula and follows the coast into Carrick Roads past the sandy beaches of Molunan to Carricknath Point. The walk then passes St Anthony church and returns to the coast at Porthbeor Cove to complete the route via the coast path.

Considerations

  • The descent from one stile involves some stone footholds (there is no ascent as the stile starts from high ground).
  • Route includes paths close to unfenced cliff edges.

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Vital statistics

  • OS Explorer: 105
  • Distance: 3.4 miles/5.4 km
  • Steepness grade: Easy-moderate
  • Recommended footwear: Walking shoes or trainers in summer; waterproof walking boots in winter

OS maps for this walk

OS Explorer 105 OS Explorer 105 (laminated version)

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

Highlights

  • Views across Carrick Roads to Falmouth and Pendennis Castle
  • Views across The Percuil River to St Mawes Castle and St Mawes
  • Fort on St Anthony Head
  • St Anthony (aka Fraggle Rock) lighthouse
  • Sandy beach at Molunan

Adjoining walks

Directions

  1. Make your way to the footpath signpost beside an information board at the far end of the car park. Descend the steps from the "Coast Path" signpost, keeping left. At the bottom of the steps, continue downhill a few paces further to where the path splits to go to the Ramparts and Battery.

    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.

  2. At junction of paths by the signpost, keep right along the railing and follow the coast path downhill to reach a waymark.

    St Anthony's Lighthouse was built out of granite in 1835 on the eastern entrance to Falmouth Harbour to guide vessels clear of the Manacles rocks. In most directions, the light is white but a sector close to The Manacles rocks is coloured red, warning vessels to steer offshore. The lighthouse was featured in the UK version of the TV series "Fraggle Rock" as "Fraggle Rock Lighthouse". Until 1954, the lighthouse possessed a huge bell which hung outside the tower and was used as a fog signal. This was later replaced with a foghorn.

  3. Turn right at the waymark and follow the path until you reach a gate across the path.

    The small building was the paraffin store for the lighthouse when it was oil-fired.

    Until electric lighting was introduced, the light for a lighthouse was produced by burning a thin oil such as paraffin. However this wasn't burnt on a wick like domestic lighting. Instead, a pressurised system was used, typically powered by a hand pump, to force the oil through a nozzle to create fine mist which instantly vaporised in the heat from combustion. This mixture of paraffin gas and air burnt rapidly, generating a bright light. As well as header tanks in the lighthouse itself, larger storage tanks were needed nearby.

  4. Climb the steps to pass the gate and follow the path to reach a Coast Path sign at a junction with another path.

    Just before the footbridge, it's possible to climb down the rocks onto the small beach of Little Molunan. At high tide the beach almost disappears but on a low spring tide it joins with Great Molunan beach. The beaches are sheltered so are ideal for swimming and there is good snorkelling along the rocks. However if you venture into the water, keep a look out for boats as the beaches are very popular places to sail to.

  5. Turn left and cross the footbridge to a gate. Go through the gate and follow the path parallel to the coast to reach a few stone steps.

    The paths to the left lead to Great Molunan beach.

    Great Molunan lies in the mouth of the Carrick Roads estuary and is consequently sheltered from westerly winds by Pendennis Head opposite, although still exposed to southwesterlies. It's a sandy beach and on calm summer days is a fairly popular place for small boats to anchor or beach when pottering around in the estuary. At the bottom of the path to the beach there is a knotted rope to assist with the climb down the rocks.

    Rock Samphire grows along the cliff at the back of the beach.

    Rock samphire has been a popular wild food since Celtic times. It has a strong, characteristic, slightly lemony flavour and recently has become more well-known as a flavouring for gin. It was very popular as a pickle in 16th century Britain until it almost died out from over-picking in the 19th Century. Consequently, it's currently a protected plant but is now making a good comeback. In Shakespeare's time, a rope was tied to a child's ankles and he was dangled over the cliff to pick the rock samphire that grew in crevices and clefts in the rocks.

    The completely unrelated but similar-looking golden samphire also grows around the North Cornish coast. The leaves look almost identical, but the daisy-like yellow flowers in summer are a giveaway, as rock samphire has tiny green-white flowers that look more like budding cow parsley. Golden samphire is edible, but is inferior in flavour to rock samphire; it is also nationally quite rare in Britain.

    Also completely unrelated is marsh samphire (also known as glasswort) which looks more like micro-asparagus. This is what typically appears on restaurant menus or in supermarkets as "samphire".

  6. Climb the steps and follow the path to reach a waymark at the bottom of a flight of wooden steps. Climb the steps and continue on the path to reach a kissing gate into a field.

    The castle to the left on the far side of Carrick Roads is Pendennis Castle.

    Pendennis Castle was built by Henry VIII to defend the coast against a possible French attack and was reinforced during the reign of Elizabeth I. During the English Civil War, more reinforcement took place and the castle withstood five months of siege from Parliamentary forces before it was captured. The castle was adapted for the World Wars of the 20th Century and the guardhouse has been restored to how it might have looked in the First World War. During the Second World War, underground tunnels and magazines were added which can now be visited.

  7. Go through the kissing gate and follow along the left hedge of the field and then as you approach the far side, follow the path up the bank to a kissing gate between the field gate and a bench.

    The castle on the headland opposite is St Mawes Castle.

    St Mawes Castle is part of the chain of coastal defences built during the reign of King Henry VIII to protect against an invasion threat from Catholic France and Spain after establishing the Church of England. St Mawes' clover-leaf shape was designed so that heavy "ship-sinking" guns could be mounted to face in three directions and together with Pendennis Castle could protect the important anchorage of Carrick Roads. Whereas Pendennis was further developed after Tudor times, St Mawes was not. Thus it is one of the best preserved of these fortresses and is also the most elaborately decorated of them all.

  8. Go through the kissing gate and follow the left hedge to reach a gateway in the bottom corner of the field.

    During the Second World War, four anti-aircraft sites were built to protect Falmouth Harbour and the shipyard. As well as re-fitting the fort at St Anthony Head, the complex included pillboxes near Carricknath Point and gun batteries which now just remain as low earth mounds and cropmarks in the fields near Amsterdam Point.

  9. Bear right through the gateway onto a track and follow this until you reach a coast path signpost pointing towards a path to the right.

    The tree cover provides a habitat for squirrels.

    Compared to red squirrels, grey squirrels are able to eat a wider diet (including acorns), are larger so can survive colder winters, and are better able to survive in the fragmented habitats created by urbanisation. They are also thought to be carriers of a squirrel pox virus which they usually recover from but has been fatal to red squirrels, although red squirrels are now also developing some immunity.

  10. Bear right up the path and follow this until you reach a waymark.

    Rhododendron is a member of the Ericaceae family to which heathers also belong and like its cousins, it is tolerant of acid soils. The word rhododendron is from the Ancient Greek for "rose tree" due to their spectacular flowers. As a result of these, rhododendrons have been popular ornamental plants for over two centuries and the species that we now call the common rhododendron was introduced in 1763. The plants thrive in the UK climate and were once native but were wiped out by the last Ice Age. Being a vigorous plant, common rhododendron was often used as a root stock onto which more fragile but exotically-coloured hybrids were grafted.

  11. Turn left at the waymark and keep left at the gateway in the direction signposted to the church and ferry. Follow the path until it emerges beside the church.

    Some of the earliest bee hives were made of wicker and covered in mud. During the Middle Ages, woven domes were made from grass known as skeps and the bee colony was kept in this. These provided no internal structure so bees would create their own honeycomb. Also since there was only one chamber, the bees were usually killed to harvest the honey and wax. In the 18th Century, multi-tier structures were developed where the honey could be harvested from one tier whilst the colony could live on in another tier. Also in the 18th Century, the first internal frames began to appear, allowing honey to be harvested more easily. During the 19th Century, the modern style of bee hive was developed.

  12. Continue ahead to pass the church on your left and follow the path out of the churchyard to a gate and stile.

    The parish church of St Anthony was established by the Augustinian Priory of Plympton and was built in 1150 and included a priory alongside, where Place house is now located. After the dissolution of the monasteries in 1538, part of the priory was used as a residence and other parts were pulled down and the stone was used to build St Mawes Castle. Despite being extensively restored in the 19th century, the church still retains its original mediaeval plan.

    After the church, there is a mediaeval stone coffin beside the path out of the churchyard.

  13. Cross the stile, or go through the gate if open, and turn right onto the lane. Follow the lane past a junction opposite Roseland Place and continue a little further to reach a kissing gate on the right, marked with a footpath sign.
  14. Go through the kissing gate and follow the path down the field to reach a signpost beside a bench where it joins the coast path.
  15. Turn right at the signpost by the bench and follow the path along the edge of the field to reach a stile.

    The beach is called Porthbeor - Cornish for "large cove". Mutation of the initial consonant happened a lot in Cornish words and the word for "large" consequently crops up in names as "meor", "veor" and "beor". Thus Porthmeor at St Ives means the same thing. A landslide occurred in 2014 and the collapsed cliff has continued slipping which has made the path to Porthbeor beach unsafe.

  16. Cross the stile and continue along the coast to reach another stile at the far end of the field.

    The headland that you can see in the distance is Manacle Point on The Lizard beside Porthoustock.

    The Manacles reef stretches for a mile and a half out to sea and has numerous submerged rocks just below the surface which are all covered at high tide apart from one. The reef has been named "the grave of 1000 ships"; over 100 have certainly been lost here, which is more wrecks than any other comparable reef on the south coast of England. The name "Manacles" is thought to be a garbling of Meyn Eglos meaning "church stones" and may either refer to St Keverne church or the gravestones of over 1000 people who have drowned here.

    The proverbial silver lining is that the shipwrecks and surrounding reefs provide a good habitat for marine life and consequently the reef has some of the best diving in Britain. In 2013, The Manacles was designated a Marine Conservation Zone as the wide range of habitats it provides support species such as spiny lobsters and sea fan anemones.

  17. Cross the stile and follow the path up the other side of the valley. Continue all the way along the side of the large field until you reach a gate in the far hedge.

    In October 1940, the coaster Jersey Queen suffered an aerial attack with machine gun and cannon fire, and incendiary bombs on its way though the Irish Sea. Two of the crew were injured but the incendiary bombs slipped off the hull into the sea preventing any major damage. Two days later, she struck an acoustic mine in Cornish waters and sank in Falmouth Bay with the loss of two crew. When the mine detonated, the captain was knocked unconscious but was pulled from the water by one of the crew. Despite suffering attacks on two subsequent ships he captained, he survived the war and was awarded an MBE for his service.

  18. Go through the gate and follow the path around the headland until you reach a short signpost with a pink National Trust sign and a pedestrian gate to the left marked with an acorn.

    The HMS Comet was a steam-driven trawler built in 1924 originally used for fishing and commissioned as a minesweeping trawler in 1939 after the outbreak of the Second World War. In September 1940 whilst escorting a convoy, the vessel struck a mine and sank off St Anthony Head. The identity of the wreck was discovered from the ship's bell. The wreck is still surrounded by the depth charges that it carried onboard.

  19. Go through the gate (the latch pulls upwards) and follow the path to a similar gate on the other side of the meadow. Go through this and continue a few paces further to a gap through the wall.

    St Anthony Head forms the southernmost tip of Roseland peninsula and entrance to Falmouth harbour. It was purchased by the National Trust in 1959.

  20. Continue through the gap in the wall and follow the main path ahead. As you approach the fort, keep left (the route to the left has nicer views and at the next direction point you can also visit the fort). Continue around the gun emplacements until the path meets the one that leads to the fort.

    The battery on St Anthony Head was constructed in 1885 and was armed throughout both World Wars and finally retired in 1952. During the Second World War, the guns were fitted with overhead covers to act as protection against strafing by enemy aircraft. These were removed when the National Trust bought the site in 1959, bringing it more closely to its original form. It is now possibly the best surviving early breech-loading artillery fortress in the United Kingdom.

    Below the guns were storage magazines for the shells, and separate cartridges which contained the gunpowder propellant. These were stored in different locations and passed through separate lifts to the gun, only being combined at the last minute. The cartridge store required the use of special shoes and clothes, and a search before entering, to reduce the risk of a spark causing an explosion. The battery was protected against invasion by a ditch surrounding the seaward side with an unclimbed fence inside of this.

  21. Turn left onto the path and follow it a short distance to reach the car park.

    Falmouth harbour is one of the largest natural harbours in the world and the deepest in Western Europe. The large waterway of Carrick Roads, forming the junction of seven estuaries, was created after the Ice Age from an ancient valley which flooded with the rising sea levels as the ice caps melted.

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