St Just to Cape Cornwall

A circular walk from St Just to the rugged coast of England's only Cape topped by a monument fashioned from a mine chimney, passing mediaeval and prehistoric remains.

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The walk heads across the fields from St Just past Cornwall's oldest pasty makers to Cape Cornwall, passing the remains of the Celtic chapel dedicated to St Helen before climbing to the monument on the Cape. The route then passes the prehistoric burial chambers of Ballowall before descending into the Cot Valley where there is an optional extension to the boulder-strewn cove of Porth Nanven. The return route crosses the top of the valley to reach St Just.

Vital statistics

  • OS Explorer: 102 (scan QR code on right to order from Amazon)
  • Distance: 3.7 miles/6 km
  • Grade: Moderate
  • Start from: St Just
  • Parking: Lafrowder Close car park TR197JA. In St Just, turn down the road between the Commercial Hotel and the Coop, opposite the Market Square.
  • Recommended footwear: Walking boots, or shoes in summer

OS maps for this walk

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

Highlights

  • Heinz monument and St Helen's Oratory on Cape Cornwall
  • Ballowall cairn - a prehistoric tomb
  • Granite boulders at Porth Nanven and Nanquidno sculpted by a prehistoric ocean
  • Wildlife including choughs and peregrine falcons

Alternative walks

Adjoining walks

Directions

  1. Facing towards the Fire Station, turn right out of the car park and follow the road past the phone box and a few paces further until you reach a gap between the houses on the left.

    The lane continues past the Laundrette to meet the main road at the village square and St Just church is on the opposite side.

    The churchyard at St Just is thought to date to early mediaeval times. The current building dates from 1334 and was substantially rebuilt and extended in the 15th Century. The granite stone with Celtic carvings that is built into the wall was once a cross shaft and is thought to date from the 9th Century. The paintings in the church date from the 15th Century, and the small stone basin beside the font was found in St Helen's Oratory on Cape Cornwall.

    The church is dedicated to St Jestyn, in common with St-Just-in-Roseland (hence the two identical place names) and also the chapel in Gorran Haven, which was formerly known as Portheast (thought to be a corruption of Porth Just).

    The upright stone in St Just church is thought to be from around the 5th or 6th Century and has a Latin inscription which translates to "here lies Selus". It is thought that this commemorates St Selevan (also known as St Levan) who was recorded as being the brother of St Jestyn (St Just). As well as the church and chapel of St Levan near Porthcurno, it is also postulated that Lansallos near Polperro may be dedicated to the same saint. During mediaeval times, the stone was built into the church wall by the altar but it was extracted during the restoration in 1824.

  2. If you don't have a dog with you, bear left to some steps at the back of the parking area, to the right of the lamp post. Climb the steps and bear right across the grass to the gateway beside the clock tower. If you have a dog, continue on the lane and turn left to reach the clock tower instead.

    The circular grassy area is a mediaeval meeting area and amphitheatre known as a plain-an-gwarry (Playing Place) where "miracle plays" were performed, re-enacting miracles performed by the Saints. These were described as "often noisy, bawdy and entertaining". Plays are still occasionally performed here. It is over 600 years old and thought to be the oldest outdoor theatre in Britain that is still in use.

  3. Bear left around the clock tower and cross the road to the narrow lane between the Cape Cornwall and Boswedden Road signs. Follow Boswedden Road to a crossroads.

    The clock tower was built as a memorial to the men of the town who died in the First World War. However, it was not completed until 1931 and it is thought that this may be due to the time taken to raise the funds. Within 8 years of its completion, the Second World War began, and tablets with more names were subsequently added to the tower.

  4. At the crossroads, continue ahead to pass Warren's Bakery and reach a bend in the road, where a path continues ahead.

    Warren's Bakery was established in St Just in 1860 and is Britain's oldest pasty maker. At the time of writing, the bakery has 50 shops throughout the West Country and there are plans to expand further afield.

  5. Follow the path ahead from the bend. Continue on the path between the two walls, ignoring any footpaths that lead off to the sides, until the path ends at a gate and stone stile.

    "Pasty" was another word used for "pie" throughout England from the Middle Ages onwards, and did not necessarily imply the characteristic shape and crimping we associate with the Cornish Pasty. The "traditional" Cornish Pasty recipe contains beef, onion, potato and swede (referred to as "turnip" in the local dialect) seasoned with salt and pepper. It's thought that this probably dates from the late 1700s when potatoes and turnips were a staple diet for the poor. Even during Victorian times, main meat available to poor people would have been pork. In fact, the really poor had "tiddy oggy" (with no meat at all). The Cornish word for pasty is "hogen" (pronounced hugg-un) which evolved into "oggy" - the dialect word for pasty. A pasty recipe from 1746 contains no potato or swede, just meat (venison), port wine and spices.

  6. Cross the stile next to the gate and cross the field towards the gate in the opposite corner.

    Tin lodes to the west of St Just were first recorded as being worked in 1782, initially via several small mines which were eventually amalgamated in Victorian times under the name Wheal Cunning. The workings extended beneath the sea near Cape Cornwall, where it was hoped as in the Levant and Botallack mines, the lodes would become richer. In this case however, the seaward excavations proved poorly productive and the mine closed in 1876.

  7. Cross the stile next to the gate and follow along the left hedge to pass a waymark beside the gateway and reach a second waymark roughly three-quarters of the way along the hedge.

    The number of cows in Cornwall has been estimated at around 75,000 so there's a good chance of encountering some in grassy fields. If you are crossing fields in which there are cows:

    • Avoid splitting the herd as cows are more relaxed if they feel protected by the rest of the herd. Generally the best plan is to walk along the hedges.
    • Do not show any threatening behaviour towards calves (approaching them closely to take photos, making loud noises or walking between a calf and its mother) as you may provoke the mother to defend her young.
    • If cows approach you, they often do so out of curiosity and in the hope of food - it may seem an aggressive invasion of your space but that's mainly because cows don't have manners. Do not run away as this will encourage them to chase you. Stand your ground and stretch out your arms to increase your size. Usually if you calmly approach them, they will back off. It's also best to avoid making sudden movements that might cause them to panic.
    • Where possible, avoid taking dogs into fields with cows, particularly with calves. If cows charge, release the dog from its lead as the dog will outrun the cows and the cows will generally chase the dog rather than you.
  8. Cross the stile on the left and then cross the field to the stepped stone stile opposite.
  9. Climb the steps and walk along the wall a short distance to reach the descending flight of steps. At the bottom, follow along the right hedge to reach a stepped stone stile in the far hedge.

    In August, blackberries start to ripen on brambles.

    According to folklore, you should not pick blackberries after Michealmas Day (11th October) as this is when the devil claims them. The basis for this is thought to be the potentially toxic moulds which can develop on the blackberries in the cooler, wetter weather.

  10. Climb the steps over the wall and turn right onto the lane. Follow the lane to a bend with a stone stile on the left, marked with an upright scaffold pole.
  11. Cross the stone stile and cross the corner of the field to the gap in the middle of the hedge opposite, below the telegraph pole.

    The stiles in West Cornwall that consist of rectangular bars of granite resembling a cattlegrid are known as coffen (coffin) stiles. These often occur on footpaths leading to churches such the Zennor Churchway. The mini-cattlegrids are fairly effective at containing livestock and were significantly easier for coffin-bearers to navigate than stiles crossing walls.

  12. Go through the gap and turn right to follow along the wall on the right and reach a stone stile in the far hedge.

    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.

  13. Cross the stile and turn left onto the lane. Follow the lane until you reach a driveway for The Forge on the right opposite the entrance to the National Trust car park on the left.

    The grand house that you pass on the right is Porthledden.

    Porthledden was built by Francis Oats, a local man who was a mine captain by his early twenties and went on to make his fortune in the gold fields and diamond mines of South Africa, becoming the Chairman of De Beers within 3 years of joining the company as a mining engineer. Porthledden was completed in 1909, towards the end of his life, and was run as a hotel by his son after his death. As the family was heavily invested in Cornish mines and the hotel was not that successful, the family debts mounted and eventually they had to sell off the house. Towards the end of the 20th century it became derelict until it was bought in 2003 by a young couple who had built a successful company in the .com boom with a website about hotels, ironically. The restoration of the house took them 10 years and had to be approached as a maritime engineering project due to the salt-laden winds that blow over the Cape that would corrode any materials that are not marine grade.

  14. Bear right onto the driveway to The Forge and cross the stile beneath the waymark. Follow along the wall on the left to reach a gap in the wall opposite. Then bear right to pass the ruins of an old chapel and reach a stone stile in the corner, to the left of the gate.

    The small ruined building in the field next to The Forge is St Helen's Oratory.

    St Helen's Oratory is thought to be on the site of a 6th century church and the font in St Just church might have originally come from here. In the mid-19th Century, an ancient cross was discovered on the site with markings that were in use during the 4th and 5th centuries. A small stone basin was also found and this is now inside St Just church. The cross has since been lost; according to one account, it was thrown down the St Just vicarage well! The cross that is now on the chapel is another ancient one that was found nearby.

  15. Cross the stile and follow either of the paths to reach the monument on the summit (the left-hand path marked as the Coast Path is the less steep of the two).

    In 1889, the steamship Malta ran aground at full speed on the rocks offshore of the Kenidjack Valley, in dense fog. The crew and passengers were all rescued by the Sennen lifeboat. A court found the captain's navigation to be substandard and suspended his licence for three months. The cargo included copper, tin and iron and has been heavily salvaged but copper ingots still turn up occasionally.

  16. Bear left to pass the monument and reach a rock platform on the cliff-edge, then turn left to follow the path descending from the rock platform to the cottages and reach a gap between two walls.

    Cape Cornwall is the only headland in England referred to as a "cape" and one of the only two in the UK (the other is Cape Wrath in Scotland). According to some sources, Cape Cornwall was once thought to be the most westerly point of the mainland, although most maps from the 16th Century onwards clearly show Lands End as protruding further west. The name Cape Cornwall first appeared on maritime charts in Tudor times though on some maps it was marked as "Chapel Just". The Cornish name for the headland is the topographically-inspired Kilgodh Ust which has been translated as "goose-back at St Just" and eloquently describes the view from the headland at the bottom of the Kenidjack Valley.

    There is a lookout on the seaward side of Cape Cornwall which is manned by volunteers from the National Coastwatch Institution and during Victorian times, there was a tin mine on the headland which operated intermittently between 1838 and 1883. The mine's chimney near the peak of the cape was retained as an aid to navigation, and during a period in the early 20th century, the former ore dressing floors were converted into greenhouses and wineries. In 1987, the headland was purchased by the Heinz corporation and gifted to the nation, to be managed by the National Trust. The chimney is marked with a commemorative plaque and is now known as the Heinz monument.

  17. Follow the path through the gap between the walls and bear left onto the track. Follow the track to a gate.

    The Hottentot Fig (carpabrotus 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. It forms a dense mat which crowds out other species and is therefore considered invasive.

  18. Go through the gap next to the gate and turn right down the steps. Follow the path to meet a tarmacked track from the beach at a waymark. Turn left at the waymark and follow the tarmac track until it ends in a junction with a gravel track at a waymark.

    Priest's Cove has nothing to do with the clergy and everything to do with mis-spelling. The cove was originally known as Porth Ust (St Just Cove) which was shortened locally to Por Ust. At some point, "Por Ust Cove" was mis-recorded on Ordnance Survey maps as "Priest Cove" and the name stuck.

    The beach is rocky at all states of the tide, with shingle at the top of the beach and boulders and rock platforms further down the beach. As the tide goes out, numerous rockpools are revealed. One area of rocks has been dammed to create a small seawater swimming pool for children.

  19. Turn right onto the track and follow it uphill to the cottages. Continue uphill on the stony track to where it passes through a gateway with a huge stone stile alongside.

    Three-cornered leeks grow along the wall beside the track.

    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 flavour of three-cornered leeks is relatively mild so they can be used in recipes in place of spring onions or chives. They are at their best for culinary use from February to April. By mid May, they have flowered and the leaves are starting to die back.

  20. Pass through the gateway and bear left onto the tarmacked lane. Follow this past a trig. point on the left until you reach a large circular stone cairn on the right with an information board.
  21. Turn right and follow the path around the cairn and the small path leading from the opposite side to reach a path along the coast.

    Ballowall Cairn was discovered in Victorian times after it had been buried under mine tips. It contained a number of burial cists with artefacts dating right back to the Stone Age but others were found from the Bronze Age implying it was in use for thousands of years. The site was excavated in the 19th Century after miners' tales of strange lights and fairies and some reconstruction work was carried out as part of the excavation. Unfortunately many of the finds that were reported from the original excavation of the site have also been lost, possibly into private collections. A Roman coin was found in one of the cists which may indicate that the site was still in use after the Bronze Age.

  22. When you reach the coastal path, turn left and follow it until you reach a junction with another large path from the left.
  23. Continue ahead at the junction and follow the path down into the valley to reach a small granite waymark at a junction of paths.

    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.

  24. Continue ahead on the bridleway until the path ends on a lane beside a footpath sign.
  25. At this point you can take an optional detour down the lane to the right for about a third of a mile to Porth Nanven, returning here afterwards. The walk continues uphill to the left. Follow the lane to Cot Valley Cottage and keep left uphill until you reach a wide area in the road with a pair of metal gates and a path leading beneath a tree to the right marked with a Public Footpath sign.

    Porth Nanven is also known as "Dinosaur Egg Beach" due to the ovoid granite boulders. The boulders were smoothed into this shape by the sea when sea levels were much higher and then trapped on the land when sea levels dropped, becoming buried under the topsoil. The sea has slowly eroded the land and freed the trapped boulders which you can see embedded in the cliffs behind the beach. Souvenir collecting was causing depletion of the smaller boulders so they are now protected; removing them is an offence which would result in a criminal record.

  26. Turn right off the lane onto the footpath. Follow the path past a barn and along a wall to a junction of paths with a Youth Hostel sign.

    Gunnera looks like giant rhubarb but the leaves stems are spiky. It tends to favour damp places as quite a lot of water is needed to supply its huge leaves.

    The plant has a symbiotic relationship with cyanobacteria which live between its cells. The cyanobacteria, also known as "blue-green algae", are photosynthetic and also supply the host plant with nitrogen which allows it to colonise poor soils.

  27. At the junction, bear left uphill to pass the standing stone and follow the path to emerge opposite a bench at the end of a lane.
  28. Turn left onto the lane. Follow this until it ends at a junction.
  29. Keep left at the junction and follow the road to reach 20mphs signs either side. Continue to pass the Methodist chapel and reach a sign for Cot Valley and Cape Cornwall, opposite a junction on the right with 30 mph signs.

    In the early 18th Century, a rift developed between the Cornish people and their Anglican clergy. Meanwhile in Oxford, the Wesley brothers began practising their rigorous holy lifestyle which was mockingly referred to as Methodism by their peers. The Wesley brothers arrived in Cornwall in 1743 and began preaching, bringing with them charismatic lay preachers who spoke in the dialect of the locals. Services were held in the cottages which was attractive to women who needed to look after young children, and in the many villages where the parish church was more than a mile away or at the top of a steep hill. A combination of these factors made Methodism very popular in Cornwall and through the late 18th and the 19th Century, many chapels were built (in the centre of the villages).

  30. Turn right onto the road with 30mph signs to return to the car park.

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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