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.


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


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

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)


  • 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


  1. Bear left across the road from the car park to a wooden gate 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.

    The "National Trust for Places of Historic Interest or Natural Beauty" was founded in 1895 when snappy names weren't in fashion. Their first coastal acquisition was Barras Nose at Tintagel in 1897. Five years later, Tintagel Old Post Office was their first house to be acquired in Cornwall. The National Trust now owns over 700 miles of British coastline.

  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.

    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 small flight of steps in the far hedge.

    Kestrels are the most common bird of prey in Europe although in Britain numbers have declined in recent years. They are easily spotted when hovering, watching their prey. Whilst hovering, they have the extraordinary ability to keep their head totally still, even in strong winds. They feed mostly on mice, voles and shrews, but will also take birds as large as starlings, and will feed on insects if larger prey are not available.

  5. Climb the steps and follow the path to a 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.

    In 1991, sloes were found in the stomach contents of a 5,300 human mummy in the Alps, indicating that they were part of the Neolithic diet. Alone they are extremely bitter but with enough sugar, they can be made into a range of preserves.

  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 an iron gate beside a bench.

    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. Go through the gate, and the gate/stile after it, 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 Post Office until you 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 gate into the churchyard on the right, opposite "Rectory".
  13. Go through the gate on the right 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 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.

    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.

  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.

  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 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.

    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.

    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.

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