Towan Beach to Portscatho

A circular walk on the Roseland coast where, during the Napoleonic Wars, smugglers would row out to the middle of The Channel in pilot gigs to trade with the enemy.

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The walk follows the Roseland coast along Towan Beach and past some small coves and to reach Portscatho. The walk then follows small lanes through Portscatho and past the pub to the parish church at Gerrans. The return route is past another pub along a quiet lane and a bridleway through the Rosteague Estate.

Considerations

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

Reviews

Nice easy walk, done it many times. No difficult dog stiles.
Lovely walk.

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Vital statistics

  • OS Explorer: 105
  • Distance: 4 miles/6.4 km
  • Steepness grade: Moderate
  • Recommended footwear: Walking shoes or trainers in summer

OS maps for this walk

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

Highlights

  • Sandy beaches at Towan and Peter's Splash
  • Pretty cottages around the harbour at Portscatho
  • Views across Gerrans Bay to Nare Head

Pubs on or near the route

  • The Plume of Feathers
  • The Royal Standard

Directions

  1. Bear left across the road from the car park to a gap beside the wooden fence leading into a courtyard, opposite the Porth Farm sign. Go through the gate into the yard and bear left beneath the arch. Keep left along the path until it merges onto the path to the beach.

    Project Neptune was started by the National Trust in 1965 to purchase and protect large portions of the British coastline. By 1973 it had achieved its target of raising £2 million and 338 miles of coastline were looked-after. The project was so successful that it is still running although mainly focused on maintenance. There is still an occasional opportunity when privately-owned coastal land is sold. A particularly notable one was in 2016 when the land at Trevose Head was put up for sale and successfully purchased by the National Trust.

  2. Bear right onto the beach path and follow towards the beach, stopping short when you reach the coast path crossing the path.

    Towan beach faces southeast into Gerrans Bay so it is exposed in easterly winds which also cause seaweed to be thrown up onto the beach. When the wind is coming from the west or north, it is nicely sheltered. At high tide, the beach is sand and shingle but as the tide goes out, areas of rocks are revealed with some rockpools.

  3. Turn left onto the coast path, waymarked for Portscatho. Follow the path behind the beach to reach a waymarked gate, just after a bench. Alternatively if the tide is out, it's possible to walk along the top of the beach to the rock platform on the point, follow the path leading up to the coast path from the back of the rocks, then continue along the coast path to pick up the route again at direction 5.

    The beaches around Portscatho, including Towan Beach, are reported as being quite good places to find cowrie shells.

    The shells of two cowrie species are found on the beaches in Cornwall and both are the size of a little fingernail: Trivia monacha which has three spots on top, and Trivia arctica which is plain. The shells are hard to find due to their size but easily recognised by the characteristic slit along one side.

  4. Go through the gate and follow the path along the right-hand edge of the field to reach a couple of steps in a gap a wall.

    Kestrels are primarily vole specialists. If there are a shortage of voles they will feed on smaller rodents such as mice and shrews, lizards and even on insects if larger prey are not available. Particularly in urban areas where there aren't many voles they will also take birds such as sparrows and even those as large as starlings.

  5. Climb the steps and follow the path to another gap in the wall at the far side of the field, marked with a wooden waymark post.

    On the cliffs of the headland, known as Greeb Point, are some graves of sailors drowned on the coast here. These date from the time before the law was passed that the bodies must receive a Christian burial in a churchyard. They were documented in 1889 when small headstones were found amongst the undergrowth, so encrusted with lichen that they could not be read. When the Victorian gentleman scraped the lichen from one to reveal the name, he was somewhat unnerved to find that it was also his own, complete with the same initial.

  6. Continue along the edge of the field from the marker to reach a couple of steps through a gap in the wall.

    In December 1963, the oil tanker Allegrity ran around on Greeb Point between Portscatho and Towan Beach on St Anthony Head. As the tide rose, the ship re-floated and drifted along the Roseland, finally running aground on Veryan Beach. Just over a week later, it capsized and was declared a total loss. Her 14 crew were saved by the Falmouth lifeboat. The ship was scrapped on the beach with material being brought ashore using metal cables. 800 tonnes of crude oil were spilled in the incident.

  7. Climb the steps and follow the path along the edge of the field to a fork in the path with a waymark, and keep right at the fork to descend some steps into the bushes and reach a gate.

    The stones of sloes (and plums, cherries and peaches) contain the compound amygdalin which is metabolised into hydrogen cyanide. Therefore breaking the stones is best avoided when using them in cooking, gin etc.

    A typical pattern of sea temperatures in Cornwall is shown below, although it can vary by a degree or two between years

    JanFebMarAprMayJunJulAugSepOctNovDec
    10109101214161716141211
    Jan10
    Feb10
    Mar9
    Apr10
    May12
    Jun14
    Jul16
    Aug17
    Sep16
    Oct14
    Nov12
    Dec11
  8. Go through the gate and follow the path along the right hedge and into the bushes. Continue on the path to reach a stone stile.

    Just after the wooden fence is a path leading down the beach, which is known as Peter's Splash. The beach is sandy at high tide, but as the tide goes out, a rock platform with rockpools is uncovered.

    As the path approaches the coast, another small path leads down onto the rocks, from which it's possible to reach the small beaches either side at low tide.

  9. Cross the stile and follow the right side of the field to reach a stile and gate.

    The headland on the opposite side of the bay is known as Nare Head and the large rock offshore of it is known as Gull Rock.

    The bays either side of Nare Head contain a large number of shipwrecks. Many of these vessels were running for safety to Falmouth harbour from a storm but misjudged the narrow passage between the Manacles reef and St Anthony's Head. Once a sailing ship had passed on the wrong side of St Anthony's Head, it became trapped within the "lee shores" between Dodman Point at St Anthony's Head where there was no safe anchorage. The Whelps reef beside Gull Rock was particularly hazardous, with jagged rocks just below the surface.

  10. Cross the stile or go through the gate then follow the path towards the houses to reach a flight of steps leading down to a tarmac area.

    The fishing port of Portscatho is named from the Cornish word skathow meaning boats, and is likely to have been uses for launching fishing boats since mediaeval times. The small harbour that you can see today was developed during the 18th and 19th centuries during the pilchard fishing boom. Two fish cellars were shown on a map from 1841 and a coastguard watch house on an 1880 map. An early 19th century boatman's shelter is still present, overlooking the harbour. At this time, it was a separate settlement from Gerrans where less marine activities such as blacksmiths shops were located.

  11. Make your way between the houses to join a lane. Follow the lane past the harbour to reach a junction on the right, just before the Plume of Feathers pub.

    The street here is known as "The Lugger".

    The Lugger was a type of sailing boat widely used for fishing until the 20th Century, and was the principal vessel of the Cornish fishing industry. The type of sails it used were known as "lugsails", and were positioned asymmetrically with respect to the mast so more of the sail was behind than in front of the mast. The origin of the name is uncertain, but one suggestion is that it might be from "ear-shaped-sail", which a French name for the class of boats ("aurique") also points to.

    In the early 20th Century, small petrol-paraffin engines became available which allowed the boats to enter a harbour more easily. At this point, the boats also began to last longer because oil spills from the engine soaked into the timber, both preventing rot and also killing off woodworm and woodlice that, formerly, had gradually devoured wooden vessels. Some of the vessels from this period have survived, converted to pleasure craft.

  12. Turn right down the small lane and follow it a short distance to a crossroads, then turn left and follow the lane up the hill, past the other side of the Plume of Feathers and into Gerrans until you reach a path leading into the churchyard on the right, opposite "Rectory".

    The Plume of Feathers is one of the oldest buildings in the village, built in 1756. Beer was brewed onsite using water from the village pump which was channelled along wooden launders and through a hole in the wall of the inn.

  13. Follow the path through the gap into the churchyard and turn left. Follow the path along the left side of the church to emerge via the churchyard gate onto the road at a junction.

    Gerrans church was originally built in the 13th Century but it's likely that there was a chapel here before this as there is a mediaeval cross in the churchyard and the village was known as Eglosgeren (Geran's Church) before the 13th Century. The tower and spire were added during the 15th Century, when the church was extended. By the 19th Century, the main church building had fallen into ruin and was rebuilt in 1849, but the tower was in good enough condition to be repaired.

  14. From the churchyard gate, cross to The Royal Standard and then follow Treloan Lane for about half a mile until you reach a wooden bridleway sign where the lane ends and the private road of the Rosteague estate begins.

    The Rosteague estate was first recorded in 1363 and is named after its owner in this period - Ralph de Restak. The 200 acre estate includes a mile of the coastline earlier on the walk. The house, which has been described as "the most beautiful house on The Roseland", is principally Elizabethan although the loo was once a chapel, thought to have been built in the 13th Century. On the opposite side of the house from the bridleway is a spectacular formal French garden which has been lovingly restored by the Milton family since they bought the property in 2004. The Historic Gardens of Cornwall notes that "Rosteague... has preserved that holiest of horticultural relics, possibly unique in England, its original box parterre, arthritic with age, even senile, but still solid enough almost to be sat upon".

  15. Continue ahead on the private road (which is the bridleway). Follow this, passing The Lodge, to Rosteague Farm cottage where the road peters out into a track.

    Alexanders are one of the plants growing alongside the track.

    All parts of the alexanders plant can be eaten and it is a good source of iron and vitamins A and C. The flavour has been described as somewhere between parsley and angelica. However, foraging alexanders is not recommended unless you are experienced at identifying it because novices can confuse it with hemlock (the most poisonous plant in the UK - just a few leaves from this can kill you).

    Wheat is the neatest of the grains with grains arranged on alternate sides of the tip of the stem, so that the seed head looks like giant, fat grass seed. Barley is similar but each grain has a long whisker protruding from the end. The hairiness of barley makes amazing patterns and rustling sounds as the wind moves through the crop. Oats are much more loosely arranged than wheat and barley, with individual grains hanging off short threads like a Christmas decoration.

    The trees along the track are young oaks.

    For such a widespread tree, the oak is surprisingly inefficient at reproducing naturally. It can take 50 years before the tree has its first crop of acorns and even then, the overwhelming majority of the acorns that it drops are eaten by animals or simply rot on the ground. Squirrels play an important part by burying acorns and occasionally forgetting a few which have a much better chance of growing than on the surface.

  16. Continue ahead on the track to Rosteague Farmhouse. Continue past the house and garage to reach a gate into a field ahead.

    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.

    The plant spreads to form dense colonies, crowding-out native species. The onion-flavoured seeds are very attractive to ants who carry them quite large distances and forget some of them, allowing the plant to colonise new areas. In fact three-cornered leeks are so invasive that they are illegal to plant in the wild.

    There are nearly 400 miles of public bridleway in Cornwall, marked with blue waymarks, which are also open to horses and cyclists, although there is no obligation to make them navigable by any means other than on foot. The general public are also legally entitled to drove livestock along public bridleways, and although Cornwall has more than its share of eccentrics, this is something we've yet to see.

  17. Go through the pedestrian gate and follow the path between the fence and the right hedge, and then between the fences to reach a gate and stile.

    Skylarks can often be heard singing as they hover above the coastal fields.

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

    During mediaeval times, skylarks were eaten and there are records of the food price for larks from the 13th Century onward. Larks were captured by dragging nets across fields at night, not unlike modern commercial fishing techniques.

  18. Go through the gate and follow the path to meet a track at a waymark.

    Wild Arum lilies grow along the track.

    The wild arum (Arum Maculatum) is known by over 90 colourful folk names including "Lords and ladies", "Priest in the pulpit", "Devils and angels", "Cows and bulls" etc. Most of these have sexual connotations as the inflorescence (known as the "spadix") is obviously phallic, and is sheathed suggestively by the encircling, leaf-like spathe. Another name "Cuckoo Pint" alludes to the time of the flower's appearance being with the first cuckoos; "pint" stays on theme, being the Old English slang for penis (a contraction of "pintle").

    All members of the lily family, including wild arum, are poisonous to dogs.

    A well-known country remedy for the stings of nettles is to rub the sore area with the leaf of a dock plant. A common misconception is that dock leaves are alkaline and neutralise the acids in the nettle sting but, in reality, docks contain a mild (oxalic) acid and nettle stings are cause by the acid content anyway. Although dock is claimed by some to contain a natural antihistamine, no scientific evidence has been found for this. It is thought that it is simply the rubbing and moisture in the leaf which provides a short-term relief/distraction whilst the sting itself is diminishing over time. Therefore almost any moist leaf should provide a little relief, with the exception of another nettle leaf!

  19. At the waymark, bear left onto the track and follow this until it ends on a lane.

    Wild Clematis, also known "traveller's joy", produces white silky seeds in autumn which give rise to another name: "old man's beard". These stay on the plant through much of the winter and provide both food for birds and fluff for lining their nests. The tangled structure of their stems also provides cover and nesting sites for birds. During the summer months, their flowers are a good source of nectar for bees.

    The French name is "herbe aux gueux" - beggar's herb. It is said to be because the sap was used deliberately to irritate the skin to give it an ulcerated look to induce more sympathy. The sap contains a chemical called protoanemonin which causes blistering.

    The track seems to have just the right combination of nectar plants and sunshine to suit butterflies which can often be seen along it in sunny weather.

    The Red Admiral, Peacock, Painted Lady and Tortoiseshell butterflies are all quite closely related and specialised for overwinter hibernation. Their wings, when closed, have a jagged outline and camouflaged colours that allows them to blend in with dead leaves. Their feet contain chemoreceptors (taste buds) which allows them to detect nectar-bearing flowers when they land.

  20. Continue ahead to merge onto the lane (going left on the lane) and follow this to reach the car park and complete the circular route.

    The National Trust is the largest owner of farms in the UK. It has around 2,000 tenants and over 600,000 acres of land. It has been calculated that 43% of all the rainwater in England and Wales drains through National Trust land.

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