Zennor to Gurnard's Head

Zennor to Gurnard's Head

A circular walk from Zennor along the coast to the site of an Iron Age fort on Gurnard's Head, returning from the Gurnard's Head pub on the ancient Churchway to Zennor.

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The walk starts from Zennor and reach to the coast at Pendour Cove where it is said you can hear the lover of the mermaid of Zennor singing. The walk follows the coast path past Veor Cove and over Carnelloe Cliff and Boswednack Cliff to Treen Cove where there are remains of an engine house and a mediaeval chapel. At Gurnard's Head there is an optional diversion onto the headland and the walk then follows a footpath inland to the Gurnard's Head pub at Treen. The circular route is completed on the ancient paths of the Zennor Churchway.


  • The coast path is strewn with small-medium boulders of fine-grained rock that is particularly slippery when damp.
  • Route includes paths close to unfenced cliff edges.

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Vital statistics

  • OS Explorer: 102
  • Distance: 4.2 miles/6.7 km
  • Steepness grade: Moderate-strenuous
  • Recommended footwear: Walking boots

OS maps for this walk

OS Explorer 102 OS Explorer 102 (laminated version)

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


  • Spectacular views of the rugged coastline
  • Sandy beach at Porthmeor at low tide
  • Wildflowers along the coast path in Spring and Summer

Pubs on or near the route

  • The Gurnard's Head
  • The Tinner's Arms


  1. Turn left out of the car park and follow the lane towards the church, keeping Bos Cres on your left, and turn left down the track marked "Coast Path". Follow this until it ends, with a small path leading ahead.

    The church building dates from Norman times, though the churchyard itself may date back further. The west tower is thought to be from the 13th century and the north aisle was added in a 15th Century rebuild. Only two of the 15th Century carved bench ends remain and these have been used to make the "mermaid chair", one end of which depicts the Mermaid of Zennor. It is thought that the octagonal font is mediaeval, and may date from the 13th century.

  2. Follow the path ahead to a stone stile.

    In 1912, the author D H Lawrence eloped to Germany with his married lover Frieda and his book Lady Chatterly's Lover (for which, Penguin Books was prosecuted under the Obscene Publications Act) is thought to be based on their relationship. He was arrested and accused of being a British spy but released after intervention by Frieda's father.

    In 1914, after a divorce was obtained, the couple married and intended to move to the continent. However the outbreak of war kept them in England and they lived in Zennor until 1917. The couple endured harassment and official censorship because Frieda was German, and were accused of a number of ridiculous things including signalling to German submarines off the Cornish coast. Lawrence wrote Women in Love during this period, but its outlook was so bleak that nobody would publish it during wartime; it wasn't until 1920 that it was finally published.

  3. Cross the stile and turn left onto the coast path, signposted to Pendeen Watch. Follow it down to the bottom of the valley to a footbridge.

    When you reach the coast path, the twin promontories of Zennor Head are a short distance along the coast path to your right. There is a nice view along the coast to Gurnard's Head from the nearer promontory.

    The rugged cliffs on this stretch of coast aren't granite. They are composed of a hard metamorphic rock that started out as a sedimentary rock formed about half a billion years ago. During a collision of continents about a third of a billion years ago, these older rocks were melted by magma (that itself eventually formed the nearby granite). The resulting geological gloop then cooled and set, forming this new fine-grained hard material that has resisted the sea. The fine-grained rock here makes the paths very slippery when they are damp whereas paths on coarse-grained granite are usually gritty with better grip in wet weather.

  4. Cross the footbridge and keep left along the rocky path from the waymark. Continue until you eventually reach another waymark where the path descends to a rock outcrop.

    On a quiet day, you may encounter slow worms sunbathing on the path, which at a first glimpse might look like snakes, but are easily recognised by their golden colour.

    During the summer months, slow worms can sometimes be seen basking in the sunshine, particularly on pieces of stone which act as a sunbed. Being reptiles, they don't generate their own body heat so they need to get it from an external source. Despite their resemblance to snakes, slow worms are lizards that have evolved to lose their legs. They are a good example of convergent evolution, where quite unrelated groups of animals have evolved to fill a similar niche. Slow worms are surprisingly long lived, and may exceed 30 years of age in the wild and over 50 years in captivity.

    The seal species most frequently seen along the Cornish coast is the grey seal. Common seals are also sometimes seen. Seals are not closely related to other marine mammals. The skeleton of an adult male grey seal (apart from the limbs) closely resembles that of a leopard. However, as you might be able to guess from their facial features, seals are most closely related to dogs, bears and otters. In fact, a dog is very much more closely related to a seal than a dog is to a cat.

  5. Keep left at the waymark and follow the path uphill to a waymark at a junction of paths.

    Carnelloe mine operated in the 1850s-70s and extracted copper initially and later tin. It was documented in the 1870s as using water power for its operations - hence the large pit for a water wheel next to the coast path. The count house (admin office) from the mine has been converted into a cottage.

  6. When you reach the waymark, turn right in the direction indicated for Gurnard's Head. Follow the path to reach a footbridge.
  7. Cross the bridge and follow the path to another footbridge.

    In July 1916 a huge area of fog caused problems for shipping all along the North Cornish coast. The Neto - a 3000 ton steamship on its way to Cherbourg carrying hay and fodder for the British cavalry horses - ran aground on Gurnard's Head and was wrecked. As salvage work began, another large cargo ship - the Enrico Parodi - laden with coal, appeared from the fog and ran aground just 300 metres away on the Carracks Reef. The salvage crews immediately switched their attention to saving the Enrico Parodi as only the bow was grounded and there seemed a good chance of floating her off at high tide. However as they attempted to tow her off using a salvage ship, a minor leak in the bow split open and the ship began to sink rapidly. The ship was quickly abandoned and sank in the deep water off The Carracks.

  8. Cross the bridge and follow the path until it emerges on a driveway.

    In April 1912, the Mildred was sailing from Newport to London with a cargo of slag from the welsh furnaces. The ship ran into dense fog off West Penwith, hit the rocks at Gurnard's Head at midnight and began to take on water. The captain and his five crew rowed for six hours to safety at St Ives. They returned later in the morning with a pilot gig to pull the Mildred free but it was too late - she was already breaking into pieces. The wreck was photographed with its set sails protruding above the water by the Gibson family from the Scilly Isles who have been photographing shipwrecks for 4 generations.

  9. Cross the driveway to the path opposite and follow it up the steps. Continue to reach another footbridge.

    The engine house ahead was part of Gurnard's Head mine.

    A copper mine on Gurnard's Head was in operation before 1821 initially under the name of Wheal Treen and was later worked under the name of Gurnard's Head Mine. By 1877 it had fallen into disuse. The ruined engine house and mine buildings are now all that remains.

  10. Cross the bridge and follow the path. When the NT sign on a rock (for Gurnard's Head) comes into view, head towards this until you reach a granite waymark.

    The rectangular pit that you pass on the right-hand side of the path contains the remains of a chapel.

    A chapel at Treen is mentioned in the Domesday book and is also mentioned in records from Tudor times as "Innyall Chappell" which from the Cornish word enyal meaning "wild". Since then, the name has been distorted into "Chapel Jane" - by which it is now known. The building was cut into a hollow in the cliff slope and in the mid 19th century it was reported as still having walls up to 7ft high. Much of the stone had disappeared by the time it was excavated in the 1960s, but the building was found to have been constructed in two phases, with an extension being added onto what was originally a simple rectangular structure. Mediaeval pottery was also found. Today, the remains of the stone walls are covered in grass, and the main indication of its existence is the rectangular hollow in which it sits.

  11. Turn left at the waymark, indicated for Treen, and follow the path up the hill until it merges onto a path running alongside the fence at the top of the hill.

    Gurnard's Head is the site of an Iron Age promontory fort known as Trereen Dinas, the meaning of which is along the lines of "fort at the farm on the point". The narrowest part of the promontory was fortified to create a defended enclosure, protected on 3 sides by the cliffs. The remnants of the fortifications are still visible as a ditch and a bank with some drystone walling.

    The circular foundations of a group of around 15 Iron Age huts have been found on the grassy east side of Gurnard's Head, with another smaller group of around 3 huts towards the neck of the headland. There were also finds of Iron Age pottery and a cache of rounded beach pebbles likely to have been used as slingshot.

    More about Gurnard's Head

  12. Bear left at the junction and follow the path to a stile.
  13. Cross the stile into the field and continue ahead along the top of the bank to a gateway opposite.

    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.


    • 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).


    • 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.
  14. Go through the gateway and follow along the right hedge to reach a flight of granite steps in the corner of the field.
  15. Climb the steps and follow the right hedge to reach a pedestrian gate in the far hedge.
  16. Go through the gate and climb the stile then follow the path over another stile and onto a driveway. Bear right to join a lane and follow this until you reach a public footpath sign on the left just before the Gurnard's Head pub.

    The settlement and manor of Treen is first recorded in 1304 as Tredyn, based on the Cornish words tre (farmstead) and dinas (fort). This refers to the hillfort on Gurnard's Head, known as Trereen Dinas which also includes the word rynn meaning "point". The hamlet appeared on Victorian maps as "Trereen" and has subsequently become shortened to "Treen".

    Since farms and headlands with cliff castles are not uncommon in Cornwall, there is another Treryn Dinas near Porthcurno and a corresponding village also now called "Treen".

  17. Cross the stile below the footpath sign and follow the left hedge to a waymarked stile in the corner of the field.

    The Gurnard's Head is reported as being built in 1812, and from the roof you can tell it was originally known as The Gurnard's Head Hotel. It was refurbished in 2000 and is still a hotel but now owned by EatDrinkSleep who also operate it as one of their small number of award-winning gastro pubs.

  18. Cross the stile. The public footpath is technically to the left of the hedge ahead to reach another stile in the corner. However this deposits you in the field on the right so many people just cut the corner and follow along the left hedge of the field on the right. From the corner with the stile, keep following the left hedge of the field past a gateway to a footbridge and stile in the next corner.

    The Romans used to soak bandages in daisy juice as an antiseptic for sword wounds. Other common names include bruisewort and woundwort which also imply use for treatment of injuries.

    Gurnards are a family of spiny fish that live on the sea bed. The rays of their pectoral fins have evolved into something approximating fingers which they use to feel their way along the sea bed and find any worms or shrimps. Plymouth aquarium have some gurnards as they are quite entertaining to watch trundling along.

    Gurnards have quite a large head and thin body. The relatively small amount of edible flesh and small bones meant they were not popular to eat, and consequently it was one of the most widely discarded fish from trawlers seeking more lucrative bottom-dwelling species.

    Gurnard has been rediscovered recently as a culinary fish as the flavour and texture of the flesh are both nice and has been championed by a number of celebrity chefs. It is quite a fast-growing fish which bodes well for a sustainable fishery.

  19. Cross the stile and head directly across the field to a stile beside the gate opposite.

    The small field probably dates from the Celtic period.

    In Celtic times, fields were small and surrounded by banks or stone walls. The fields were used both for growing crops such as oats, wheat or rye, and for keeping livestock. The field shape was round or square, rather than rectangular, so that the stones didn't have to be carried further than necessary. The small size was because they needed to be weeded by hand, in many ways similar to a modern-day allotment.

  20. Cross the stile and turn left onto the road. Carefully follow the road until you reach a stony track departing from a sharp bend in the road with a large wooden waymark post inscribed "Public Footpath to Coast Path".
  21. As you approach the waymark, bear left off the road onto the track. Where it forks, take the right-hand track to pass the cottages on your left. Continue over a bridge until you reach a sharp bend to the left where a grass path departs to the right, marked with a wooden sign with a yellow arrow.

    It's thought that as well as the word "rose" coming from Latin (rosa), the "dog" part of "dog rose" may have also come from Latin: the Roman naturalist Pliny attributed rosa canina to a belief that the plant's root could cure the bite of a mad dog. It's been suggested that the belief might be based on the resemblance of the thorns to canine teeth.

  22. At the bend, bear right onto the grass path and follow this over coffin stile. Follow the left hedge of the field to a stile to the left of the gate.

    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 such as those on either side of Advent Church.

  23. Cross the stile (or go through the gate if open) and follow the left hedge to the gate. Bear right before this to stay in the field and continue following the left hedge to a stone stile marked with two wooden posts.

    The path across the fields is known as the Zennor Churchway or Coffin Path and runs all the way from St Ives to Pendeen across the flat "bench" cut into the granite by waves when sea levels were higher during the Pliocene era.

    The path was marked by a number of round-headed wayside crosses which date back to early mediaeval times, although not many survive intact. Some are now only evident as cross-bases - a roughly trimmed boulder containing a square hole to take the cross shaft.

  24. Cross the stile and head across the field to the gap opposite marked with a white post.

    Depending on the time of year, you may notice some traditional farming practices in the fields here such as cereal crops collected into sheaves.

    The ancient field boundaries of West Penwith are thought to be older than the Pyramids. The Environmental Stewardship Scheme has allowed traditional farming methods to be sustained, preserving the network of hedgerows in the tiny Celtic fields that would otherwise be uneconomical to farm with industrial-scale machinery. The scheme has also facilitated coastal grazing which helps prevent the coast becoming overgrown with gorse and bracken, allowing species such as the chough and potentially the large blue butterfly to recolonise.

  25. Cross the stile and again cross the field to the gap opposite marked with a white post.
  26. Cross the stile and bear right slightly across the field to the gap with a white post.

    Most of the stiles between the fields around Zennor resemble granite cattle grids and date from the 18th and 19th Centuries: granite was in ample supply here whereas building wood was not, due to the feeble stunted trees on the moors here. Some of the stiles have impressively deep holes between the cross pieces so tread carefully. Some have cross pieces that are elevated to deter more adventurous livestock.

  27. Go down the steps by the post and cross the track to a waymarked stile in the gap to the right of the gate ahead.

    Research has shown that crows have a much higher density of neurons in their forebrains than primates do (the density if neurons in this region is thought to correlate with intelligence).

    The brain of a crow accounts for 2.7 percent of the bird's overall weight whereas an adult human's brain represents 1.9 percent of their body weight. This is even more impressive when considered in context: birds need to be as light as possible in order to fly.

    Ravens are considered the most intelligent crow species, outperforming chimpanzees in some tests. Consequently an academic is quoted as saying that crows are "smarter than many undergraduates, but probably not as smart as ravens."

  28. Cross the stile on the right of the gate and follow the left hedge to where a path departs from corner of the field.

    Nettles obtain soluble silicate compounds in the soil and use these to create silicon dioxide (quartz) from which their 1.5 mm long hollow stinging spikes (known by scientists as "trichomes" and most other people as "glass needles") are made. These spikes are located on the stems of the plant as well as the leaves and break off in the skin of a herbivore or walker that brushes against the plant. Because the spikes are so brittle, they also gradually break off during the lifetime of the nettle as other leaves rub against them on windy days, so older nettles are "less stingy" than fresh growth.

  29. Join the path and follow it until it ends on a track outside a farmyard.

    The word "farm" has the same origins as (e.g. law) "firm". Both words are related to the mediaeval Latin word firma meaning "fixed payment". Its original use in English was to do with contracts and leasing (which is why "to farm out" means "to subcontract"). In fact the word "farm" had no association with food production until the 19th Century. In the 16th Century it began to be applied to leasing of land and the association with farmland developed from this.

  30. Turn right onto the track and follow it away from the farm to a road.

    As well as making the cattle-grids for coffin stiles stiles, granite was put to a number of uses in farms such as field rollers.

    Granite is the most common igneous rock found at Earth's surface and also the oldest - thought to be formed up to 300 million years ago.

  31. Turn left onto the road and follow it past the cottages to reach a lane to Zennor. Turn left down the lane to complete the circular route.

    The name Zennor comes from St Senara, to whom the church is dedicated. There were no roads to Zennor until the 1800s so goods were brought here on sledges pulled by animals.

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