St Buryan to Penberth Cove

A circular walk along the granite cliffs and the valleys of St Loy's and Penberth Coves where colourful gardens flourish in one of the mildest winter climates on the British mainland.

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The walk follows a footpath towards the coast then along the stream through bluebell woods to St Loy's Cove. The walk then joins the coast path and follows this to Penberth Cove via the rocky valley of Porthguarnon. The return route is up the Penberth valley and across the daffodil fields on the west side of St Buryan.

Considerations

  • Note that most coastal walks in Cornwall have paths close to unfenced cliffs.

Vital statistics

  • OS Explorer: 102
  • Distance: 7.6 miles/12.3 km
  • Grade: Moderate-strenuous
  • Recommended footwear: Walking boots

OS maps for this walk

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

Highlights

  • Rugged granite coastline
  • Bluebell woods approaching St Loy's Cove
  • Pretty fishing port of Penberth Cove
  • Wildlife including seals, birds of prey and choughs

Pubs on or near the route

  • St Buryan Inn

Directions

  1. From the church, cross to the St Buryan Inn and then turn down Boskennal Lane alongside the inn. Follow the track leading from the end of the lane to reach a stile beside a gate at a sharp bend in the track.

    St Buryan churchyard is a raised oval enclosure indicative of a Celtic religious settlement from the Dark Ages, possibly the 6th Century. A church was established here in 930 under Saxon King Athelstan and owned extensive land in the parish. After the Norman Conquest, the church was re-established in 1238 and remnants of the Norman church are still visible including a coffin-shaped monument inscribed with Norman French. The 13th Century church was pulled down and rebuilt in the 14th Century, from which the tower remains. The rest of the church was rebuilt again in the 15th Century and has subsequently been restored a number of times since the mid-18th Century.

  2. Cross the stile or go through the gate and walk ahead across the field to the gap in the hedge opposite.

    St Buryan dates from Celtic times and was recorded in 1086 as Egloberrie (Cornish for "Church of St Berrie"). The Domesday survey recorded that the Cannons of St Buryan owned enough arable land for 8 ploughs and 20 acres of pasture.

    In Norman times, ploughing was done with oxen and where the Domesday survey mentions "land for one plough" this was a standardised measurement of land area. The amount of land that could be planned with an 8 oxen team in one season was around 120 acres and represented enough to support a household.

  3. Go through the gap and cross the field to a pedestrian gate with granite gateposts.

    Growing daffodils has been an important industry in Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly for over a century. When the Great Western Railway reached Cornwall, this provided a means to export perishable goods such as fresh flowers and fish which previously would not have survived the long journey by boat or horse and cart. Out of respect for the dead, coffins were transported by the railway for free. It was therefore not unheard of for coffins filled with daffodils to arrive in London from Cornwall.

    Daffodils contain chemical compounds which are toxic to dogs, cats and humans and ingestion of any part of a daffodil is likely to cause a stomach upset e.g. when unsupervised children have eaten leaves. The bulbs have both higher concentrations and a broader range of toxins than the rest of the plant and can be mistaken for onions (although don't smell of onion).

    Over 99% of a protein molecule is made up from just 4 chemical elements: carbon, hydrogen, oxygen and nitrogen. Except in times of drought, hydrogen and oxygen are readily available from water. Plants can get carbon from atmospheric carbon dioxide via photosynthesis. That leaves nitrogen. Some plants are able to get this from the air but most plants need to get this from the soil in the form of nitrate or ammonium compounds. This is why cow manure, composted plants and even dried blood (which all contain nitrogen compounds) have been used to improve soils.

  4. Go through the gate and turn left. Follow the track until it ends in a junction with another track.
  5. Turn right at the junction and follow the track until it ends at a metal gate for Ewenbyghan, with a small stile to the left.

    The settlement of Boskennal dates back to Early Mediaeval times and was first recorded in 1329 as Boskenhal. The name of the settlement is thought to have been based on the Cornish word bod and a personal name i.e. "Kennal's dwelling".

  6. Cross the stile on the left and follow the right hedge of the field to a gateway.
  7. Go through the gateway on the right and turn left to carry on in the same direction as before, following the left hedge to reach a stone stile in the corner.

    Skylarks can often be heard singing above the fields.

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

    Lark shooting was a popular for sport in Victorian times. Revolving mirrors were used to attract the migrating birds, which would hover over the mirror. There are records of over 1,000 birds being shot at a single mirror in a day. Despite being flagged as high conservation concern on the the IUCN Red List, at the time of writing in 2020, skylarks can still be legally shot in France and still are in large numbers.

  8. Cross the stile and follow the right hedge to reach another stone stile.
  9. Cross the stile and head straight across the field to the stone stile opposite.
  10. Cross the stile and follow the left hedge to reach a gate.
  11. Go through the gate and continue following the left hedge to reach a stone stile.

    Ribwort plantain is a common weed on cultivated land with unmistakable black seed heads on the end of tall stalks often with a halo of white flowers. Generations of children have worked out that by knotting the stem, the seed head can be launched as a projectile at unsuspecting adults.

    A tea made from the leaves is a popular herbal remedy used as a cough medicine. Care should be taken where the plant is harvested as it is not only highly tolerant of high metal levels in the soil but also accumulates these. It will even tolerate and accumulate arsenic which is normally toxic to plants. It therefore has the potential to be used for cleansing soils contaminated with mine waste.

  12. Cross the stile and continue across the field to reach a stone stile to the right of the gate.

    As you approach the gate, there is a horseshoe-shaped cross head built into the wall. In 1896, this was recorded as standing beside the gateway. The cross shaft on which it stood is also now built into the wall. The cross head is mediaeval but the shaft is more recent.

  13. Cross the stile and bear right across the field towards the cottage to reach a stile against the wall outside the cottage.

    The Latin name of the buttercup, Ranunculus, means "little frog" and said to be because the plants like wet conditions. It is thought it may have come via a derogatory name for people who lived near marshes!

    An acre is a unit of area dating back to mediaeval times, based on the amount of land that could be ploughed with a yoke of oxen in one day. It was standardised in 1824 as a rectangle of 4 rods (66 feet) by one furlong (660 feet). The 10:1 "letterbox" aspect ratio comes from the long, thin field shapes in mediaeval times to minimise the awkward process of turning the oxen around. In fact the name "furlong" comes from the Old English for "one furrow long". The acre has since lost its prescribed shape and now just means 43,560 square feet.

  14. Cross the stile and go down the steps to a road. Turn right onto the road and follow it downhill a short distance to a footpath sign on the left.
  15. Turn left onto the path indicated by the footpath sign and follow it through the woods until you cross over the stream and reach a fork.

    In Old Cornish, both bluebells and marigolds where known as lesengoc which translates to "flower of the cuckoo". In Modern Cornish, the marigold has remained more-or-less the same but the bluebell has been changed to bleujenn an gog ("plant of the cuckoo"). The association between bluebells and cuckoos exists in Welsh ("bells of the cuckoo") and Gaelic ("cuckoo's shoe"), and in some English folk names such as Cuckoo's Boots and Cuckoo Stockings. It is thought that the association is due to the time that bluebells flower coinciding with the time that the call of the cuckoo is first heard.

    The inner bark of the tree carries sugars created by photosynthesis down from the leaves to feed the rest of the tree. The inner bark dies over time to produce the outer bark which protects the living part of the tree.

  16. After crossing the stream, keep left at the fork to follow the path back over the stream and continue down the valley. Follow the path to eventually reach a small gate marked "private".

    The deciduous woodland includes beech and chestnut trees.

    To prepare wild chestnuts, prick each of your chestnuts with a skewer or slit the shell with a knife - this is vital to stop them exploding (and disappearing into dust). Bake them in a hot oven for at least 10 minutes. Wild chestnuts are harder to shell than the shop-bought variety as the shells are much thinner and the nuts are often smaller. An easier way to separate the edible part from the shell is to simply slice the shell in half and then scoop out the contents with the point of a knife blade. Also this way, the bitter pith covering the outside of the nut is left behind in the shell. The contents of the nut should be fluffy and pale yellow; discard any that are brown. Separating the flesh from the shells is a fairly tedious process, but with a few friends armed with large cups of tea, a formidable amount of chestnut can be extracted which can be used to make stuffings, soups or whizzed into flour and added to bread recipes. It also freezes nicely so it can be stored up for Christmas recipes.

  17. At the small gate, keep right to follow the path and reach a gate leading to a stream crossing. Go through this and cross the stream via the protruding stones, then follow the waymarked path to reach a stile.

    St. Loy's Cove is rumoured to be the warmest cove on mainland Britain during winter. In reality, the warmest location probably varies a little from year to year, but it is true that some of the mildest winter temperatures are found in Southwest Cornwall as winter temperatures increase in a southerly and westerly direction across Britain. South-facing bays also have the benefit of catching the winter sunshine whilst having some shelter from prevailing westerly, or cold northerly and easterly winds.

  18. Cross the stile. The walk continues ahead along the fence but beforehand you may want to make a small diversion down the path to the left to St Loy's Cove. After returning here, follow the path along the fence to a kissing gate.

    To reach the cove, follow the path to join a track beside a bridge and cross over the track to the path opposite. Follow this over another bridge to reach the cove.

    The first record of St Loy is a reference to the bay from 1580 as "Saint Loybay" and the saint mentioned is likely to date from early mediaeval times. At St Loy's Cove, a chapel dedicated to St Loy was recorded as being located on the east side of the stream. It is thought to have been removed in the 19th century in order to build a summerhouse.

    A second mediaeval chapel was also recorded at St Loy's Cove - on the west side and dedicated to St Dellan. It is thought that its ruins were thrown over the cliff in the mid 19th century to create a garden.

    More about the history of St Loy's Cove

  19. Go through the kissing gate and follow the coast path past one waymark to a corner with a large rock on the right and a waymark around the corner to the left.

    In October 1912, the French steamer Abertay ran aground at St. Loy's Cove in thick fog. A newspaper at the time reported:

    The crew were astounded to find themselves alongside a large steamer; they shouted but got no reply from the vessel that towered over them, and they took her for an abandoned wreck. The Abertay was badly holed aft and, fearing she would sink, the crew clambered aboard the other vessel.

    The vessel they boarded was the SS South America, which had itself run aground at St Loy's Cove in thick fog seven months before, and had been abandoned after the attempts to refloat it had failed. The crew spent the night on the wreck of the large ship and climbed down to safety the following morning.

  20. Keep left around the corner to follow the waymarked coast path to reach a stile.

    In 1991, sloes were found in the stomach contents of a 5,300 human mummy in the Alps, indicating that they were part of the Neolithic diet. Alone they are extremely bitter but with enough sugar, they can be made into a range of preserves.

  21. Cross the stile and continue following the coast path until you reach a waymark at a junction of paths, with a sign for Treverven Campsite.

    The ancient field boundaries of West Penwith are thought to be older than the Pyramids. The Environmental Stewardship Scheme has allowed traditional farming methods to be sustained, preserving the network of hedgerows in the tiny Celtic fields that would otherwise be uneconomical to farm with industrial-scale machinery. The scheme has also facilitated coastal grazing which helps prevent the coast becoming overgrown with gorse and bracken, allowing species such as the chough and potentially the large blue butterfly to recolonise.

  22. Follow the steps down to the bottom of the valley and up the other side then continue following the coast path until you reach a T-junction in the path.

    A path leads down to Porthguarnon Cove from the coast path. It is a boulder-strewn beach similar to St Loy's Cove. The name of the cove is thought to derive from the Cornish for Alder trees which perhaps once grew along the stream.

  23. At the junction, turn left and follow the path to a waymark.
  24. Bear left at the waymark onto the small path indicated and follow it to emerge beside the cottage at Penberth Cove.
  25. Keep right to pass the cottage and follow the tarmacked lane to reach an elaborate bridge/tower over the river. Continue on the road until you reach a public footpath sign on the right next to a telegraph pole.

    Many elements of the fishery at Penberth Cove date back to the 18th century. The capstan dates from the 19th Century and was used to winch boats up the beach before the electric winch was installed in the 1960s.

  26. At the Public Footpath sign, bear right onto the small path and follow it down from the wall. Continue along the woodland path to reach a flight of steps.

    During the 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.

    The plants get their name due to their triangular flower stems. As the name also suggests, they are members of the onion family and have a small bulb. In fact, in New Zealand they are known as "onion weed".

  27. Go down the steps into the garden and follow the path ahead to emerge in a gravel parking area. Turn right onto the tarmac driveway to reach the road.
  28. Turn left onto the road and follow it uphill a short distance to a track on the right marked with a footpath sign.
  29. Turn right onto the track and follow it to a bend where an unsurfaced track departs to the left before a wooden gate ahead.
  30. Bear left onto the track and follow it through the woods until a path forks off to the right into a meadow.
  31. Bear right onto the path into the meadow and follow along the line of trees on the left to the far hedge. Continue through the gap in the hedge to reach a stone stile.
  32. Cross the stile and cross the field to a small gap on the right side of the far hedge beside the river.
  33. Go through the gap in the wall and follow the path to emerge via some steps into another small meadow. Follow along the left edge of the meadow to reach a small path leading from the corner to a footbridge.
  34. Cross the bridge and climb the steps. Follow the sunken woodland path and cross over a track leading from the field. Continue following the sunken path until it ends in some stone steps.

    Black fungi that resemble lumps of coal are known as coal fungus but also King Alfred cakes due to a legendary baking disaster by the regent. The dried fungus can be used with a flint as a fire starter - a spark will ignite the inside which glows like a piece of charcoal and can be used to light dry grass. There is evidence that prehistoric nomadic tribes used glowing pieces of fungus to transport fire to a new camp.

  35. Go down the steps into a field and cross this to the stile ahead with wooden poles either side.
  36. Climb the stile and go through the gate. Cross the field to a similar stile to the right of the field gate (using the higher ground on the left to bypass any flooding).

    The grey heron is an unmistakably massive bird with a 6ft wingspan and yet weigh in at only 1-2kg. The call of the heron is equally unsubtle - a loud croaking "fraaank" noise that is more like grating metal than the sound of birdsong. Herons are are most commonly seen in or near freshwater where they hunt for fish. The number of breeding herons has been steadily growing in the UK due to mild winters as they struggle to feed during cold weather when ice forms a barrier on the surface of water.

  37. Go through the wooden pedestrian gate and climb the stile. Follow along the right side of the field to reach a stile next to the gate in the far hedge.

    If you are crossing a field in which there are horses:

    • Do not approach horses if they have foals, make loud noises nor walk between a foal and its mother as you may provoke the mother to defend her young. Generally the best plan is to walk along the hedges.
    • Horses will often approach you as they are used to human contact. If horses approach you, do not run away as this will encourage them to chase you. If you are uncomfortable with their proximity, calmly walk away.
    • Do not feed the horses with sweets or otherwise. Some food which is harmless to humans can be deadly to horses.
    • If you have a dog, keep it under close control in a visible but safe place, and as still and quiet as possible.
  38. Climb the stile and continue ahead to the gate and stile opposite.
  39. Cross the stile and follow the track to reach a lane.
  40. Turn right onto the lane and follow this a short distance to a track with a Public Bridleway sign on the right.
  41. Bear right onto the track and follow this to pass alongside a white house and reach a metal gate on the right just past the house.

    Both navelwort's Latin name and common name are based on its resemblance to a belly button. Other common names include wall pennywort and penny pies due to the shape and size resembling an (old) penny.

  42. Continue ahead over the stream then follow the track around the bend to the right. Continue uphill past the flight of steps to reach a track departing to the left.

    Rooks nest in the trees here.

    Rooks eat pretty much anything but their primary food source is earthworms and insect larvae which their beak is evolved to probe for.

  43. At the junction, turn left and follow the track uphill and around a bend to the right to reach a fork.

    Around 400 million years ago, green algae made its way from the sea to the land and the first liverworts appeared. These ancient, very simple plants are still around today. DNA studies suggest that all land plants and mosses may have originally evolved from early liverworts.

    Liverworts are found in damp, shady places but form flat structures that almost resemble soft corals. Their name is based on the appearance of the leaves which was thought to resemble an animal liver. Like mosses, liverworts don't produce flowers but instead reproduce via spores.

  44. At the fork, take the right-hand path marked with a wooden signpost. Follow this until it emerges onto a gravel track.
  45. Bear left onto the gravel track to reach the tarmac and follow the driveway until it meets a lane.
  46. Continue ahead to merge onto the lane and follow this until it ends in a T-junction.
  47. Turn right at the junction and follow the road until it ends in a T-junction with the main road.
  48. Turn left onto the road and carefully follow it to the next junction on the left.
  49. Turn left onto the lane and follow this until you reach the driveway to Higher Alsia Farm.

    Alsia Well is nearby - reachable via a short diversion using the footpath that departs on the left a little further up the lane past Higher Alsia Farm. A worn track leads down to the well which is immediately evident from the tree tied with ribbons.

    Like many ancient wells, Alsia well was reputed to cure ailments and was a focus for superstitious rituals such as forecasting the future. The tree tied with ribbons is a relic of another ancient practice, although at this particular well it could be a modern revival rather than a continuous unbroken tradition.

  50. As you approach the Higher Alsia Farm driveway, bear right onto the small path to the right of the concrete structure to reach a stile into a field. Cross the stile and follow around the left hedge of the field until you pass one gateway and reach the gateway in the top corner.

    The pieces of ribbon tied to a tree beside the well may initially appear to be New Age pollution but are in fact a Celtic tradition dating back to pre-Christian times. For example, Christ's Well at Mentieth was described in 1618 as "all tapestried about with old rags".

    It was thought that an ailment could be cured by dipping a piece of fabric in the well and hanging it on a sacred tree beside the well. As the fabric rotted away, the illness was supposed to disappear. The wells were known as cloughtie wells based on clout - the archaic word for item of clothing - as in the saying "never cast a clout till May is out". Documented examples of cloughtie wells include the holy wells at Sancreed and Madron. This can also be seen at other holy wells such as St Clether, but how much of this is modern emulation and whether a suitable sacred tree species grew beside these wells in Celtic times is not known.

    Unfortunately most modern ribbons are made of polyester which does not rot and remains in the environment a long time where it can be hazardous to wildlife. If you are planning to tie a ribbon, make sure it's a natural fibre or rayon (aka Viscose) which is plant cellulose and can be broken down by micro-organisms.

  51. Go through the gateway and follow the right hedge past one gateway to a waymarked gateway in the corner.
  52. Go through the gateway and stay in the right-hand of the two fields. Follow along the hedge on the left and as this bends away then cross the field to the small stile near the left corner of the far hedge.
  53. Climb over the stile and cross the field to another small stile directly opposite.
  54. Cross the stile and follow the path through the undergrowth to another stile. Cross this into a field and follow along the left hedge to reach a stile in the hedge opposite.
  55. Cross the stile and then cross the field to a gate and stile in the right-hand corner of the far hedge.
  56. Climb the stile and cross over the track to the stile opposite. Cross the stile and continue ahead across the field towards the buildings on the skyline until you meet the right hedge. Follow along this to reach a stile next to a tall wooden fence.
  57. Cross the stile and follow the path over two stone stiles. Continue between the trees to reach a gravel path leading from some steps and a stile on the left.
  58. Continue ahead onto the driveway and follow this to reach Galligan Close.
  59. Turn left and follow the tarmac to a junction of tracks at the Galligan Lane sign. Turn right to reach the main road beside the village shop and complete the circular route.

Help us with this walk

You can help us to keep this walk as accurate as it possibly can be for others by spotting and feeding back any changes affecting the directions. We'd be very grateful if could you look out for the following:

  • Any stiles, gates or waymark posts referenced in the directions which are no longer there
  • Any stiles referenced in the directions that have been replaced with gates, or vice-versa

Take a photo and email contact@iwalkcornwall.co.uk, or message either IWalkCornwall on facebook or @iwalkc on twitter. If you have any tips for other walkers please let us know, or if you want to tell us that you enjoyed the walk, we'd love to hear that too.

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