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.

Vital statistics

  • OS Explorer: 103
  • Distance: 3.3 miles/5.2 km
  • Grade: Easy-moderate
  • Start from: St Keverne church
  • Parking: The Square, St Keverne TR126NB
  • Recommended footwear: Walking boots

OS maps for this walk

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  • 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


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

    St Keverne was the site of a mediaeval monastery from around 600AD, 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 along the left hedge to reach a stone stile.

    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 them: blackthorn pollen is orange whereas hawthorn is pink, fading to black; hawthorn petals overlap each other whereas blackthorn is more "gappy"; hawthorn leaves have bits sticking out like oak whereas blackthorn is a classic leaf shape with a serrated edge.

    A cordial can be made from blackthorn blossom by dissolving 100g of sugar in 1 litre of warm water mixing one large handful of blossom, scaled up to produce the quantity you require.

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

    Celandine flowers close each night and open each morning. This is controlled by a circadian rhythm, so they really are 'going to sleep' at night and 'waking up in the morning'. It is likely that this has arisen to protect the internals of the flowers from any frost during the night as they begin flowering in March when frosts are still common.

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

    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.

  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.
  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.
  13. Go through the gateway and turn left onto the road. Follow the road to a junction.
  14. Keep right at the junction to keep following the road towards St Keverne. Continue until you reach another junction with a "Porthkerris Land Sea and Sports" sign.

    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 to the waymark and cross the stile to follow the path between the wall and fence. Continue 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.

    Apple pips contain contain a compound called amygdalin, which is cyanide bonded with sugar. In the gut this is converted to hydrogen cyanide. If you accidentally swallow a couple then don't panic: you'd need to chew and swallow hundreds of apple pips to get a fatal dose of cyanide.

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

  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.

    Elderflowers appear in June and are easily recognisable as large white umbels on the shrubby green trees. If you are harvesting the flowers to make cordial or wine, avoid picking umbels where the flowers are going brown or haven't opened yet; they should be bright white with a yellow centre. If you are harvesting the berries they should be black (not red) and not shrivelled.

    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, though you lose some of your sugar on the discarded elderflowers that way. Dilute with water or sparkling water to serve.

  23. Bear left onto the lane and follow it until you 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 powered from a low voltage source such as a car battery which charges a capacitor to release a periodic pulse of electricity; this is often audible as a quiet "crack" which is a good indicator that a fence is powered. The voltage is not high enough to cause serious injury but touching an electric fence is nevertheless unpleasant on a scale similar to stinging nettles. 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 metal pedestrian gate to the left of the field gate.

    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.
  26. Go through the pedestrian gate and cross the stile behind it then follow the path along the right hedge to reach a stile.
  27. Cross the stile and 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 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 migrate to India, Arabia and Africa for the winter. Journeys of over 7000 miles have been recorded.

  29. Cross the stile and turn right onto the lane a short distance to reach a stone stile on the left.
  30. Cross the stile and follow the path along the right hedge of the field to reach a stone stile in the corner.
  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.
  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.
  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 1400's, 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.

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

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