St Keverne to Porthallow

A circular walk through woods and meadows to Porthoustock and Porthallow from St Keverne, settled in the Dark Ages by Celtic monks trading with Brittany

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The walk starts at the church and follows the wooded valley to Porthoustock where there is an optional diversion to the beach. The walk then continues to Porthallow. The walk back is across the fields to Tregaminion and finally along the river to Tregoning returning to St Keverne via Well Lane - thought to be the site of the mediaeval holy well.

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Vital statistics

  • OS Explorer: 103
  • Distance: 3.3 miles/5.2 km
  • Steepness grade: Easy-moderate
  • Recommended footwear: Walking boots

OS maps for this walk

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

Highlights

  • Pretty woodland paths with bluebells and orchids in spring
  • Thatched cottages and cottage gardens at Porthoustock and Porthallow
  • Sandy beach at Porthallow at low tide
  • Views along the south Cornish coast to the Helford River, Carrick Roads and the Roseland
  • Porthallow scarecrow festival in August

Pubs on or near the route

  • The Three Tuns
  • The White Hart

Directions

  1. From the square, enter the churchyard and follow the path along the left side of the church. Continue along the length of the church to reach a junction of paths just past the church.

    St Keverne was the site of a mediaeval monastery from around AD 600, which would originally have been built of wood. The settlement of St Keverne was first recorded in the 1086 Domesday survey as Lannachebran. The manor included 20 acres of pasture and land for 7 ploughs and was owned by the canons of St Achebran's monastery.

  2. Continue ahead towards the wall and follow alongside the wall to reach a metal gate out of the churchyard. Go through this to reach a wooden kissing gate.

    The church is dedicated to St Akevernus (also known as St Kieran) who is said to have founded the monastery. The current church mostly dates from the 15th Century but some of the stonework from a previous church was re-used in its construction. The columns within the nave are constructed from a number of different colours of stone which is thought to have been imported from Brittany. The church was restored in the 1830s and a mural of St Christopher was discovered beneath whitewash.

  3. Go through the kissing gate and follow the path roughly three-quarters of the way along the left hedge to reach a low stone stile in a corner.

    Blackthorn and hawthorn trees both grow in similar places but in each season there are different ways to tell them apart.

    In spring, blackthorn is one of the first trees to flower. The white blossom appears before the leaves in April. In warm weather, the leaves may quickly catch up and this is when it can get mistaken for hawthorn, which produces leaves before flowers. However, there are a few other ways to distinguish the flowers: blackthorn pollen is orange whereas hawthorn is pink, fading to black. Hawthorn petals overlap each other whereas blackthorn is more "gappy".

    In summer, the leaf shape can be used to tell them apart. Blackthorn leaves are a classic leaf shape with slightly serrated edges. Hawthorn leaves have deep notches dividing the leaf into several lobes a bit like oak.

    In autumn, pretty much all hawthorn trees have small red berries, even the windswept specimens on the coast. Blackthorns trees may have purple sloes, but not all the trees fruit each year. Some years seem to result in a lot more sloes than others.

    Hawthorn trees are often a little bigger than blackthorn, especially in harsh environments such as on the coast. Blackthorn tends to form thickets whereas hawthorn are typically distinct trees. Hawthorn bark is usually shiny whereas blackthorn is dull. The thorns on hawthorn tend to be shorter (less then 2cm) and point slightly forwards on the stem. Blackthorn has longer spikes that stick out at right angles.

  4. Cross the stile and follow along the right hedge to reach a stone stile in the corner of the field.

    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.

  5. Cross the stile and the track to the gate and stile opposite. Cross the stile (or go through the gate if open). Follow the path ahead into a field and along the left hedge. At the end of the hedge, continue across the field to a stile and gateway in the bottom corner.

    The trees around the field provide good perches for crows.

    Studies have shown that crows are capable of self-discipline. If offered one piece of food now or two later, the crows will resist temptation and wait. However if the initial piece of food is a high value item such as sausage, they won't take the risk.

  6. Cross the stile or go through the open gateway and follow the path through the woods to reach a footbridge over the stream.

    From December until the spring, celandine leaves are quite noticeable along the edge of paths. They have a shape similar to a "spade" in a pack of cards and are patterned with lighter green or silvery markings.

    Sycamore timber was traditionally used for milk pails as it does not impart any flavour or colour. It is still used today for kitchenware and is recognisable by the light colour and fine grain.

  7. Cross the footbridge and stile and continue following the path until you descend some steps and emerge onto another path.

    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.

  8. When you reach the bottom of the steps, bear right to follow the path between the walls and follow this onto a driveway which ends in a T-junction with a lane.

    Mosses' lack of deep roots mean they need to store their own supply of water during dry periods which is why they are found in shady places that are not dried-out by the sun. This also applies to moss on trees - it rarely grows on the south-facing part of the trunk which can be used as a crude form of compass when navigating.

  9. Turn left onto the lane and follow it past the cottage to where a path departs to the right from the far side of the cottage.

    During winter, from November to March, winter heliotrope is visible along the edges of roads and paths as carpets of rounded heart-shaped leaves.

    From mid November to January, the plants produce spikes with pale pink scented flowers. The scent resembles marzipan i.e. almond and vanilla.

    During winter, from November to March, winter heliotrope is visible along the edges of roads and paths as carpets of rounded heart-shaped leaves.

    The name of the plant is Greek for "sun direction" because the flowers turn to follow the winter sun.

  10. Bear right onto the path and follow it over a bridge and some steps to a metal gate. Go through the gate and keep right where a track departs to the left to go through a gateway. Continue following the path, passing through another metal gate, to reach a waymark beside a kissing gate.

    Red and Roe deer are the two truly native species of the six found in the UK and both have pointy, branching (rugose) antlers. The Red deer is the largest of the species and has a characteristic large white V on its backside whereas the Roe deer just has a small white patch.

    The fallow deer was introduced by the Normans and has flat, elk-like (palmate) antlers and an inverted black horseshoe surrounding a white patch on its rear end.

    In the late 19th and early 20th Centuries, three "exotic" Asian species (munjac, sika and Chinese water deer) were introduced. These all have quite rounded ears whereas the European species all have pointy "elf-like" ears.

    Roe deer, Fallow deer and Red deer are all present in Cornwall and the populations of all three species has increased substantially over the past decade, possibly by as much as a factor of ten. There are also a small number of munjac deer, but far fewer than in the rest of England.

  11. The route continues through the gate on the left but beforehand you may want to continue ahead to explore Porthoustock before continuing. From here, go through the gate and follow the path uphill along the fence and cross straight over the track near the top to reach a kissing gate in the corner of the field.

    The settlement of Porthoustock was first recorded around 1250 as Pordeustek and is pronounced "prowstock" by locals. Other than the porth meaning cove or harbour, no-one is quite sure of the origin of the name. The sheltered and steeply-sloping beach makes it a good boat launching location. A lifeboat was therefore stationed here from 1869 until 1942 and the lifeboat house remains, albeit re-purposed. Fish cellars also existed here and at least one of these has been re-purposed into accommodation.

  12. Go through the kissing gate, cross the stone stile and turn right. Follow the right hedge and then turn left to reach a gateway.

    The coast path is routed inland through the fields here due to the quarrying on the coast. One of the old quarries is the site of the Cornish Sea Salt Co.

    The Iron Age saltworks on The Lizard inspired the idea for the Cornish Sea Salt Company in 2004 which, after three years of development work, began trading in Jan 2008. The salt is harvested from the sea in a purpose-built building on the Lizard coast. Only a fraction of the salt is extracted from the seawater, which is then allowed to trickle back into the sea through a fault in the rocks, ensuring that the local salinity levels are not greatly disturbed.

  13. Go through the gateway and turn left onto the road. Follow the road to a junction.

    In winter, birds have a tough time finding enough food to sustain themselves and keep warm. Flocking offers a number of advantages that eases this pressure. Roosting as a flock means they can huddle together to keep warm (one big object has a larger heat capacity and smaller surface area than lots of little ones so heat is lost more slowly). A flock can also share the work of looking out for predators and spotting food, allowing more time to be spent on feeding. Birds of different species will sometimes even flock together to cooperate.

    If flocking offers so many advantages, you may wonder why birds don't do it all year round. During the spring, breeding is all about competition between the birds for mates and nesting sites and here it pays to split up to reduce competition. Also, summer food sources tend to be more spread out (e.g. insects) rather than the dense clumps of seeds and berries found in winter that are better able to feed a flock.

    During the 18th Century, a salt tax was introduced in Britain, both on production and on import. Ireland didn't have this tax, so large amounts of rock salt were exported from Cheshire to Ireland to fuel the resulting boom in salt refinement there. Refined salt from Ireland was smuggled back to Britain in sufficient quantities to put the (taxed) sea salt industry into further decline.

  14. Keep right at the junction to keep following the road towards St Keverne. Continue until you reach a junction on the right.

    The settlement of Trenance was first recorded as a manor in the Domesday survey of 1086 spelt Trenant. The name is the Cornish for "valley farm". In 1086 it had a pasture of 100 acres and arable land for 6 ploughs and was owned by Algar. Prior to the Norman conquest it had been owned by Oswulf.

    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.

  15. Bear right off the road at the junction and cross the low stone stile to the left of the metal gate. Follow the path between the wall and fence to reach a stile.

    There is an old radar station along the lane to Porthkerris which was associated with the Torpedo Range at the mouth of the Helford River. Radar aerials were originally located beside the building but have since been removed.

  16. Cross the stile and continue following the path to reach a couple of steps down from a wall with an iron railing.

    Genetic analysis has revealed that domestic apples originated from wild apples in Kazakstan near the Chinese border. It is thought that the apple was probably the first tree to be domesticated by humans, several thousand years ago. Wild apples grew in the British Isles in Neolithic times but domesticated apples were introduced by the Romans. Over 7500 varieties of apple are now known.

  17. Descend the steps then bear left to follow the path downhill to the yard. Cross this to the waymark opposite.

    The UK produces nearly two-thirds of all cider in the European Union and by volume of alcohol, the excise duty on cider is lower than any other drink. Cider has had a huge resurgence in popularity over the last few years and three in five adults now drink it.

    Cider is part of the Westcountry heritage and this includes a tradition dating back to the early Middle Ages known as the "Orchard Wassail" where an offering of bread and cider was made to the apple trees and incantations were recited to promote a good harvest.

    Cornish ciders beginning to achieve popularly outside the county include "Cornish Rattler" from Healey's cider farm (distributed by St Austell Ales) and "Orchard Cornish" cider (a joint venture between Cornish Orchards and Sharp's Brewery). In the interests of research, both have been extensively tested and deemed very refreshing and conducive to the recital of incantations.

  18. Keep right at the waymark (the left-hand track leads to Fat Apples café) and follow the track to where it ends on the road.

    Fat Apples Café is on the site of Porthallow Vineyard which was the most southerly in Britain. This made it into the national press in 1998 after the owner at the time was prosecuted by Trading Standards. A Trading Standards inspector became suspicious when he came across a 1992 vintage - the year that the vines were cut back. According to the newspaper reports, a site visit revealed that "estate produced and bottled" wine was made from wine kits and cider production involved soaking off the labels of shop-bought cider and re-labelling it.

    The settlement here, known as Park-an-Tidno, dates from mediaeval times and was recorded in 1419 as Parksyntynnyowe. It is thought to have originally been based on the Cornish word fenten, meaning "spring" or "well", plus the more recognisable park, meaning "field". -yow was a common plural ending in the Celtic language. The gist would have been something like "Springfields".

  19. Turn right onto the road and follow it downhill until you reach a public footpath on the left just before the Porthallow sign.

    Porthallow is now probably best known for being the midpoint of the South West Coast Path.

    The South West Coast Path stretches for 630 miles from Minehead in Somerset to Poole Harbour in Dorset. It was created as a route between lighthouses for use by the Coastguard so they could overlook the bays and coves to catch smugglers.

  20. The walk continues on the footpath to the left, but first you may wish to follow the road down to Porthallow beach and then return here to continue the walk. Follow the path to a stile next to a gate. Cross the stile and follow the path to emerge into a field.

    As the name of the pub - the Five Pilchards - suggests, the port flourished during the heyday of pilchard fishing and a number of the buildings are relics of this. During mediaeval times, it was a major fishery, initially owned by an Abbey, and the pilchard fishery continued into Victorian times. In more recent times, Porthallow was largely owned by the Trelowarren Estate and the beach was still owned by the estate until the 1970s when it was purchased by the village. The place name is pronounced locally as "pralla".

  21. In the field, bear left slightly as you cross the field to a stone stile. Cross this and follow the path until it emerges on a track.

    Foxgloves are reliant on bumblebees for pollination and bumblebees are much more active when the weather is good. As an insurance policy against bad weather, foxgloves have evolved to stagger their flowering over several weeks, starting with the flowers at the base of the stalk and working up to the top, where the higher flowers protrude over other vegetation that has grown up in that time.

    The Old English name for the blackbird was osle and up to the 17th Century this survived as in alternative names for the blackbird ranging from ouzel to woosel. One of these is used in A Midsummer Night's Dream by Shakespeare: "The Woosell cocke, so blacke of hew, With Orenge-tawny bill".

  22. When you reach the track, keep left to follow it ahead and continue until the track ends in an area of tarmac beside a building.

    To make elderflower cordial, remove the bitter stems from about a 20 flower heads and soak overnight in 1 litre of water containing the juice of 2 lemons. Strain the liquid and dissolve around 600g sugar to make a sweet cordial. To make dissolving the sugar easier, you can pre-dissolve the sugar in the water in advance by boiling the water and allowing it to cool before adding the elderflowers although you lose some of your sugar on the discarded elderflowers that way. Dilute with water or sparkling water to serve. It can be frozen for use at other times of the year.

    Researchers at the University of Sydney studying influenza found that the pigments in elderberries have antiviral properties. A small effect was found in inhibiting a virus from attacking a cell but a more more significant effect was found in preventing viruses from propagating once they had infected a cell. The elderberry chemicals were also found to stimulate the cell's own chemical messaging system used to trigger an immune response.

    During the COVID-19 outbreak, there was a surge in demand for elderberry-derived herbal remedies. However, there are concerns that compounds in elderberry could have the potential to trigger an immune over-reaction (known as a "cytokine storm") seen in some severe COVID-19 infections.

  23. Bear left onto the lane and follow it uphill a short distance until you pass a garage on the left and reach a waymarked kissing gate on the right with a Public Footpath sign to St Keverne.

    The settlement of Tregaminion dates from mediaeval times and was first recorded in around 1250 as Trecheminion. The name is thought to be based on the Cornish word kemmyn meaning "common" or "commoner", but could also be from kemmynn meaning "legacy" or "inheritance".

    A neolithic axe made of the hard metamorphic rock greenstone was found here around 1968 and was recorded as being given to the Helston museum in 1971.

  24. Go through the gate on the right and follow the path around a bend to left, past some gates and along the hedge to reach a stone stile into a field.

    Electric fences are typically powered from a low voltage source such as a car battery which charges a capacitor to release a periodic pulse of high voltage electricity. This is often audible as a quiet "crack" which is a good indicator that a fence is powered. As with the high-voltage shock caused by static electricity, the current is not high enough to cause serious injury but touching an electric fence is nevertheless unpleasant. If you are answering the call of nature in the vicinity of an electric fence, be mindful of the conductivity of electrolyte solutions!

  25. Cross the stile and bear right slightly to a stone stile to the left of the field gate.

    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.

    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.
  26. Cross the stile then follow along the right hedge to reach a stone stile with a wooden fence on the far side.

    The association of good luck with four-leafed clover was first recorded in Victorian times (1860s-1870s) so may be a relatively recent invention. Perhaps something that occupied children for hours was seen as good luck in Victorian times!

  27. Cross the stile lift the top section of the fence to cross into the field. Bear left slightly across the field, roughly in the direction of the church on the skyline to reach a small gap in the hedge with a similar fence contraption and stone stile roughly half-way between the telegraph pole and the corner of the field.
  28. Cross the stile and continue towards the church to reach a small stone stile.

    In summer, swallows can sometimes be seen catching insects in the fields.

    Swallows face a major weather forecasting challenge: to know when to migrate, they need to know what the temperature will be like 7,000 miles away. It is thought that swallows solve this problem by choosing locations at each end where the respective dipping and rising temperatures correlate well, so the temperature when leaving is what they can expect when they arrive.

    Large amounts of calcium are needed when birds lay eggs to create the eggshells. Female birds store of calcium by growing a special type of leg bone which has high a high density of calcium. Similar calcium storage leg bones have been found in female dinosaur species only distantly related to birds which indicates this was a general approach used by dinosaurs.

  29. Cross the stile and turn right onto the lane a short distance to reach a stone stile on the left next to a wooden post.
  30. Cross the stile and follow the path along the right hedge of the field to reach a stone stile in the corner.

    The plant with sticky green seeds is known as cleavers due to the ability to attach to clothing or animals. The use of "to cleave" meaning "to adhere" has Saxon origins but has become less common in recent years perhaps due to the confusion of having a more well-known meaning which is virtually the opposite. A Cornish dialect name recorded as cliders in Victorian times is likely to be a corruption of this.

    Goosegrass is another common name of the plant due to its attractiveness to poultry as a nutritious food. It contains tannins which make it too bitter for humans. Other common names include sticky willy.

  31. Cross the stile and continue following the path along the right hedge to reach a path departing from the corner of the field into the woods.

    The northeastern area of The Lizard, around the Helford creeks has been known for at least 1000 years as the Meneage, pronounced "M'neeg". The name means "land of the monks" and it is thought that after the Romans departed, the area was a confederacy of small Celtic monasteries settled by missionaries from Brittany.

  32. Follow the path into the woods and down some steps. Continue on the path to cross a stone stile and a short distance further to emerge onto a track via a concrete stile.

    Ferns produce 2 different types of leaf (although they often look quite similar). The normal leaves are used for photosynthesis of sugars just like in other plants. They also produce a special kind of spore-bearing leaf.

  33. Bear left onto the track and follow it to a gate.

    The St Keverne parish has one of the densest distribution of place names beginning with "Tre-" anywhere in Cornwall, indicating heavy settlement during the Dark Ages. Around St Keverne itself, these places are thought to be part of a monastic estate. During this period, there were strong links with the Celtic people of Brittany and this may explain the unusual stone within St Keverne church which is thought to have been imported from Brittany.

  34. As you approach the gate, bear right to reach a stile and cross this. Follow the path leading over the stream and continue to emerge on a lane beside the Parish Hall.

    The clapper footbridge over the river and the remains of a weir and sluice gate on the stream are thought to possibly date from as far back as mediaeval times. The path is known as Well Lane and is thought to have been the location of a mediaeval Holy Well recorded in 1260 as Funten Keran and 1280 as Funten Kevan. It was later described as a disused pump erected on a foundation of old stones.

  35. Follow the lane ahead from the hall to reach the road and turn left to return to the square.

    The Three Tuns Hotel dates back to at least the mid 1400s, although the physical structure has been replaced since the first building. It is said to take its name from an incident in 1467 where the local vicar was found in the building with three huge casks (tuns) of wine or brandy, "obtained" from a French wreck. Each tun held around 250 gallons, so in total this would have been the equivalent of four and a half thousand bottles.

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