St Just, Cape Cornwall and Cot Valley circular walk

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.

Considerations

  • Route includes paths close to unfenced cliff edges.

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Vital statistics

  • OS Explorer: 102
  • Distance: 3.7 miles/6 km
  • Steepness grade: Moderate
  • Recommended footwear: Walking boots, or shoes 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)

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

Pubs on or near the route

  • The Kings Arms
  • The Star Inn
  • The Wellington Hotel

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 reach a bend in the road where a path carries on ahead.

    For many years, the pasties for Warren's Bakery were made here. Closure of the factory was announced in 2019 as part of a restructure after the company made a loss of nearly £1 million.

    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.

    Alexanders are very salt tolerant so they thrive in Cornwall's salty climate. They are just as likely to be found along coastal footpaths as along country lanes. New growth appears in the autumn so during the winter, when most other plants are dormant, it is a dominant source of greenery along paths and lanes in exposed coastal areas.

    "Pasty" was another word used for "pie" throughout England from the Middle Ages onward, and did not necessarily imply the characteristic shape and crimping we associate with the Cornish Pasty. A pasty recipe from 1746 contains no veg, just meat (venison), port wine and spices. The first "Cornish pasty" recipe is from 1861 which contained just beef and no veg.

    The "traditional" Cornish Pasty recipe contains beef, onion, potato and swede (referred to as "turnip" in the local dialect from its more formal name of "Swedish turnip") seasoned with salt and pepper. It's thought that this probably dates from the late 18th Century (when the Poldark novels were set) when potatoes and turnips were a staple diet for the poor but the first documented "traditional" recipe is not until 1929.

    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. Over 120 million Cornish pasties are now consumed each year.

  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 a stone stile roughly three-quarters of the way along the hedge.

    The number of cows in Cornwall has been estimated at around 75,000 (a lot of moo is needed for the cheese and clotted cream produced in Cornwall) so there's a good chance of encountering some in grassy fields, but also on open moorland and sometimes for conservation grazing on the coast path too.

    The Ramblers Association and National Farmers Union suggest some "dos and don'ts" for walkers which we've collated with some info from the local Countryside Access Team.

    Do

    • Stop, look and listen on entering a field. Look out for any animals and watch how they are behaving, particularly bulls or cows with calves
    • Be prepared for farm animals to react to your presence, especially if you have a dog with you.
    • Try to avoid getting between cows and their calves.
    • Move quickly and quietly, and if possible walk around the herd.
    • Keep your dog close and under effective control on a lead around cows and sheep.
    • Remember to close gates behind you when walking through fields containing livestock.
    • If you and your dog feel threatened, work your way to the field boundary and quietly make your way to safety.
    • Report any dangerous incidents to the Cornwall Council Countryside Access Team - phone 0300 1234 202 for emergencies or for non-emergencies use the iWalk Cornwall app to report a footpath issue (via the menu next to the direction on the directions screen).

    Don't

    • If you are threatened by cattle, don't hang onto your dog: let it go to allow the dog to run to safety.
    • Don't put yourself at risk. Find another way around the cattle and rejoin the footpath as soon as possible.
    • Don't panic or run. Most cattle will stop before they reach you. If they follow, just walk on quietly.
  8. Cross the stile on the left and then cross the field to the stepped stone stile opposite.

    Researchers have found a recessive gene which appears to turn normal 3-leaf clovers into the 4-leaf version. Normally this is masked by the 3-leaf gene but environmental conditions can promote the 4-leaf form. Some domestic varieties have also been selectively bred to increase the proportion of 4-leaf plants. Genetically-engineered four leaf clovers are now a possibility with some farms in the USA reportedly already using genetic modification to churn-out thousands of plastic-sealed "lucky" charms per day.

  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.

    According to folklore, you should not pick blackberries after Michaelmas 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.

    Being attached to tasty a blackberry means that bramble seeds are spread widely. Mammals, birds, insects and even some fish will eat blackberries. Bramble seeds can survive up to 100 years in the soil, which helps them to colonise recently-cleared land.

  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.

    Like other members of the pea family, gorse produces its seeds in pods. The seeds are ejected with a popping sound when pods split open in hot weather. This can catapult the seeds up to five metres. The plants are able to live 30 years and survive sub-zero temperatures, the seeds can withstand fire and remain viable in the soil for 30 years.

  11. Cross the stone stile on the left and cross the corner of the field to the gap in the middle of the hedge opposite, below the telegraph pole.

    The stiles in Cornwall that consist of rectangular bars of granite resembling a cattle grid are known as "coffen" (coffin) stiles. These often occur on footpaths leading to churches such as the Zennor Churchway. The mini cattle grids are fairly effective at containing livestock and were significantly easier for coffin-bearers to navigate than stiles crossing walls. They are more frequently found in West Cornwall but there are a few in East Cornwall too such as those on either side of Advent Church.

  12. Cross the coffin stile in 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 then immediately left across the stile with a wooden bar 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 onward 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 and salt. It forms a dense mat which crowds out other species and is therefore considered invasive.

    The reason that Cape Cornwall could once have been thought to be be most westerly point of the British mainland it that is almost is. The tip of Cape Cornwall is further west than the coastguard lookout overlooking Sennen Cove and the shipwreck near Land's End.

    In fact, the longitude of Cape Cornwall's most westerly point is approximately equivalent to the exit from the Land's End coach parking area. The most westerly point on Dr Syntax's head is only about 450 metres further west than this.

  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 misspelling. 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 misrecorded 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.

    The rocks in the middle of the bay are The Brisons. On a clear day, the Scilly Isles can be seen on the skyline behind the rock on the left.

    The pair of rocks roughly a mile off the coast near Cape Cornwall are known as The Brisons which is from the French word brisant meaning "reef". They are part of a reef system that extends all the way from Gribba Point (Pen an Gribow in Cornish which is from the word krib, meaning "reef"). The smaller rock has a large protruding "nose" whilst the larger rock is more rotund and consequently the pair have been described as forming the profile of General Charles de Gaulle lying on his 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.

    The process of placing trig points on top of prominent hills and mountains began in 1935 to assist in the retriangulation of Great Britain - a project to improve the accuracy of maps which took three decades.

    The brass plate with three arms and central depression was used to mount a theodolite which was used to measure the angles between neighbouring trig points very accurately. These angles allowed the construction of a system of triangles which covered the entire country and provided a measurement system accurate to around 20 metres.

  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.

    More about the Ballowall barrow

  22. When you reach the coastal path, turn left and follow it until you reach a junction with another large path from the left.

    The headland sticking out into the bay is Dr Syntax's Head at Land's End. The islands with a lighthouse are The Longships. On a clear day, you can see another lighthouse on the skyline. This is Wolf Rock.

    Wolf Rock is a pinnacle seven miles southwest of Gwennap Head which rises more than 60 metres to break the surface. The rock earned its name from the howling sound caused by gale force winds blowing through fissures in the rock.

    In the 1830s, a beacon was built on the rock which has survived into the 21st Century. The beacon consists of a metal cone, just under 5 metres in diameter and height, constructed of iron plates and filled with cement rubble. The difficulties of building this were enormous: during 5 years, there were only 302 hours during which work could be carried out. Work on a 25 metre lighthouse began in 1861 and took 8 years to complete. It is constructed of granite quarried at Lamorna Cove and until 1988, it was manned.

  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.

    Fossil records indicate that bracken dates back at least 55 million years. By 24 million years ago it had a worldwide distribution and it is now thought to be the most common plant in the world.

  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 at Carrallack Cottage and a path leading beneath a tree to the right (marked with a Public Footpath sign somewhat obscured by the tree).

    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.

    More about Porth Nanven

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

    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.

    During late winter or early 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. Once you're familiar with their narrow, ridged leaves, you'll be able to spot these emerging from late October onwards.

    Three-cornered leeks are native to the Mediterranean and are first recorded as being introduced to the UK in 1759. By Victorian times, they had become well-established in the wild. They thrive in the moist, mild climate in Cornwall and are salt-tolerant so will grow almost anywhere, even on the coast.

    There are over 30,000 miles 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.

    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.

  28. Turn left onto the lane. Follow this until it ends at a junction.

    Foxgloves have a life cycle which spans two years. The seeds germinate in spring and during their first year they produce a "rosette" of large, velvety green leaves with toothed edges. These are particularly noticeable from October onwards once other vegetation has died back. The leafy foxglove plants remain dormant throughout the winter, ready for a quick start in the spring.

  29. Keep left at the junction and follow the road to reach 20mph 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.

    During the 18th Century in Oxford, the Wesley brothers began practising their rigorous holy lifestyle which was mockingly referred to as Methodism by their peers due to their methodical practices. John Wesley began open-air preaching to recruit followers to his movement and formed small classes for each community where followers would receive ongoing religious guidance. Wesley always advocated the practise of Methodism as an extension of the Anglican faith and encouraged his followers to attend the parish church regularly. Nevertheless, senior figures within the Church of England feared the effects (or perhaps popularity) of Methodist practices, suggesting that an overdose of the Holy Spirit might be unhealthy for weak minds.

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

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