Zennor to The Carracks circular walk

Zennor to The Carracks

A circular walk towards St Ives from Zennor following the Coast Path past the haunts of the legendary mermaid of Zennor to the islets of The Carracks, frequented by seals, and returning on the Coffin Path, along which villagers made their final journey to Zennor church.

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The route heads out to the coast and follows the Coast Path around the twin promontories of Zennor Head to Porthzennor. The route descends towards the sea along Tregerthen Cliff where it's possible to climb down onto the rocks. The path climbs again and passes high above Wicca Pool before descending to Treveal Cove, where it's possible to climb down to the shore. Shortly after, the walk turns inland, following the river to Trevail Mill and then joining the ancient Coffin Path which it follows all the way back to Zennor Church and the Tinner's Arms.


  • The coastal section includes some scrambles over granite boulders. Springs drain into two sections of the coast path so the path and rocks are wet here.
  • Route includes paths close to unfenced cliff edges.

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Vital statistics

  • OS Explorer: 102
  • Distance: 5.4 miles/8.6 km
  • Steepness grade: Moderate-strenuous
  • Recommended footwear: Waterproof 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)


  • Rugged coastline between Zennor and St Ives
  • Panoramic coastal views from Zennor Head
  • Marine wildlife including seals, seabirds including gannets and coastal birds including choughs
  • Vibrant wildflowers along the coast path and tracks in late spring
  • Heather flowers in July and August

Pubs on or near the route

  • The Tinner's Arms

Adjoining walks


  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 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.

  2. Follow the path ahead to a stone stile.

    The twin promontories of Zennor Head are along the coast path to your right and the long, thin headland behind the headland on the left is Gurnard's Head, due to its profile being similar to that of the fish.

  3. Cross the stile to reach a sign for Zennor Head where the path meets the coast path. Keep right to join the coast path and follow it around the headland and behind Porthzennor Cove until it eventually ends via a few steps at a T-junction with another path at a granite waymark.

    As you follow the path from Porthzennor Cove to the junction, notice how the stones on the path change from hard fine-grained rocks to coarse-grained granite and the path starts to get gritty from weathered granite. The huge blob of granite that makes up most of West Penwith starts here, but didn't quite make it as far as Zennor Head. However, the heat from the molten magma, that eventually cooled to form the granite, altered the surrounding rocks.

  4. When you reach the junction, turn left and follow the coast path around the bay to the headland and to the back of the next bay until you reach a stile, located between two waymarks.

    In this area, magma was forced under high pressure between the surrounding rocks which created granite sheets, visible as light-coloured bands in the darker rocks. You can see these in the rocks on the point that you cross over before you reach Wicca Pool, where the main mass of granite meets the sea. At low tide, rows of granite blocks can be seen in the channels between the grey rocks which would have originally been a single tendril of granite that later cracked.

  5. Cross the stile and stream and follow the path until you eventually reach a stone stile.

    The dandelion-like flowers along the coast are most likely to be catsear, also known as false dandelion. Catsear is very salt tolerant, not only growing along the coast but actually in sand dunes. The easiest way to recognise it is by the hairy leaves, hence the name. If you can cope with the texture, the leaves are edible and are much less bitter than dandelion leaves.

    Another way to tell them apart is when they are flowering. Although dandelion flowers over quite a long period, the most profuse flowering is in April and May whereas catsear's intense flowering period is in late June and through July. Catsear has neater flowers than dandelion with squarer edges to the petals (but still toothed). The stems supporting the flowers are also solid, in contrast with the hollow stem of the dandelion.

    Along the coast, from June onwards but particularly in the late summer and autumn, parasol mushrooms are common. They are one of the easier mushrooms to recognise due to their huge size (and umbrella shape when fully open). The brown flecks on their otherwise white flesh are caused by the rapidly expanding young mushroom bursting through a brown outer coating as it grows (a bit like sugar puffs breakfast cereal!).

    Parasol mushrooms have firm white flesh and delicate flavour which is not strongly "mushroomy". This makes them an excellent carrier for other flavours within a sauce, adding texture and body to a dish.

    The word granite comes from the Latin granum (a grain), in reference to its coarse-grained structure. Granite forms from a big blob of magma (known as a pluton) which intrudes into the existing rocks. The huge mass of molten rock stores an enormous amount of heat so the magma cools very slowly below the surface of the Earth, allowing plenty of time for large crystals to form.

  6. Cross the stile and follow the coast path until you reach another stone stile.

    Heather plants have a symbiotic relationship with fungi which grows inside and between some of the plant root cells. Up to 80% of the root structure can be made up of fungi. The fungi are able to extract nutrients from poor, acidic soils that plants struggle with. In return, the plant is able to generate other nutrients (e.g. sugars by photosynthesis) that are useful to the fungi. A similar partnership between plants and fungi occurs in lichens.

    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.

  7. Cross the stile and follow the coast path until you reach a pedestrian gate.

    The rocky islands off the point are known as The Carracks.

    The Carracks are named after the Cornish word for "rock". The largest island in the group is sometimes known as "Seal Island" due to the grey seals that live there, and boat trips from St Ives can be seen visiting the island to see the seals. The group of smaller islands closer to St Ives are now known as The Little Carracks, but in the early 20th Century they were still known as Carrack-an-Heythen which is from the Cornish meaning "rock of the birds".

    The rocks on the point surround a rocky lagoon that is isolated from the sea at low tide. The kelp beds surrounding the rocks provide shelter for small pollack which can be seen quite easily from the rocks when the sea is calm.

    The Cornwall Seal Group Research Trust gather information about the numbers of seals in each location to study migration behaviour. Each seal has a unique pattern of spots which is like a fingerprint, allowing individuals to be identified so photos are also very useful.

    If you see one or more seals, take a photo if possible but never approach the seals to take a photo - use a zoom from a clifftop. Send the location, date, number of seals and photos if you have them to sightings@cornwallsealgroup.co.uk.

  8. Go through the gate and follow the path until you reach a granite waymark with three yellow arrows.

    Gannets are the largest sea birds in the North Atlantic with a wingspan of up to 2 metres and are easily recognisable by their long white wings with black tips. Gannets can dive from up to 30 metres, achieving speeds of up to 100kph as they strike the water, enabling them to catch fish much deeper than most seabirds. To achieve this they have air sacs in their face and chest, which act as cushioning when they hit the water. Also they have no external nostrils, instead they are situated inside the mouth.

  9. Turn right onto the path (indicated on the granite post for River Cove & Field Path) and follow this to reach a pedestrian gate on the right and a flight of steps on the left.

    The name "chough" is from the bird's call although this is not that accurate as "chough" is more like the sound a jackdaw makes (a very short "chu"). Locally, choughs were known as "chaws" which is a better representation of their (much longer) sound.

    The old Cornish name for the bird is Palores, meaning digger, which is thought to be a description of it rooting for invertebrates.

    The scientific name (Pyrrhocorax pyrrhocorax) means "fire crow" which is likely to be an allusion to its red bill and legs. This possibly also relates to the birds' mischievous reputation during the Tudor and Elizabethan periods for stealing lighted candles or embers and dropping these onto roofs, which were generally thatched in Cornwall at this time.

  10. Bear left down the steps and follow the path (through a gate half-way along) until it ends on a driveway.

    A popular misconception is that a butterfly was originally called "flutterby". In fact, the name stems from the Old English word buttorfleoge which literally means "butterfly". The term "flutterby" is thought to have been coined by Shakespeare.

    Mosses reproduce with tiny spores rather than seeds. Many mosses use wind to carry their spores and produce tiny stalks with the spore-releasing equipment on the top in order to catch the wind - these can be seen as thread-like structures standing up from the moss. These spore-releasing devices often have a ring of teeth around the edge (visible with a magnifying glass) to control the release of the spores, allowing them to be released gradually over a period of time to catch gusts of wind of different speeds and in different directions.

  11. When you reach the driveway, turn right and follow it uphill until you reach a junction of tracks in front of a cottage.

    The building at the bottom of the track was originally a mill.

    The simplest design for a waterwheel is known as an undershot wheel where the paddles are simply dipped into flowing water. This works well in large rivers where there is a strong current.

    However, in hilly areas with smaller streams (such as Cornwall), the overshot design is more common where the water is delivered via a man-made channel (leat) to the top of the wheel where it flows into buckets on the wheel, turning the wheel through the weight of the water. An overshot design also allowed the mill to be located slightly further away from the main river which had obvious advantages during floods.

  12. Bear left in front of the cottage in the direction signposted "Zennor Field Path" and continue on the track until it ends in a forked junction with another track with a waymark.

    The field system and track here is thought to have originated in Roman times and been adapted in mediaeval times. The first record of the settlement of Treveal is from 1327 as Trevael with the "vael" thought to be based on a personal name. The spelling has drifted around a little over time with the mill using the spelling "Trevail".

  13. Keep right at the fork and turn right onto the track. Follow this past a cottage and continue to the farm to reach a waymark on the right.

    Wicca farm dates back 3,500 years to the Bronze Age, although the name "Wicca" stands out as not being an obvious Cornish name. It is unlikely to be from the Saxon word hwicce (meaning settlement) since the area was almost exclusively Celtic-speaking, so the chances are that this was a reference to witchcraft which was documented as existing in many of the neighbouring villages. Witches were said to congregate on the Burn Downs (the hill above Zennor) for their midsummer gathering and a rock known as Witches Rock once stood there until it was broken up and carted off in the 19th century. A local legend is that any woman who touched the Giant's Stone (a rock in a now overgrown area at the end of the short track leading from Zennor Church) nine times at night would turn into a witch.

  14. Go straight ahead towards the farmhouse then pass through the gap marked with a blue and yellow arrow. Cross two stiles in short succession then follow the right hedge of the larger field to reach a stile in the far hedge.

    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.
  15. Cross the stile and head to the stile ahead marked with white posts. Cross the stile between the posts and head across the field to a waymarked opening to the right of the field gate.

    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.

  16. Go through the gap and head across the middle of the field towards the buildings until you can see a waymarked path into the bushes, then head for this.

    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.

  17. Cross the stile and follow the path through the bushes and over another stile until you reach a final stile leading into a field, beside an old building.

    The ruined building was a Bible Christian chapel, one of a number built along the line of the path stretching from St Ives to Pendeen. The founder of the Methodist movement - John Wesley - preached at some of these.

  18. Cross the stile and continue across the field to the waymarked opening opposite. Follow the path through the bushes until you reach a crossing of paths in a clearing.

    The succulent leaves of navelwort can be eaten and used in a salad. Older leaves become more bitter so the younger leaves are recommended. The crunchy stems can be added at the last minute to a stir-fry as an alternative to beansprouts. Care should be taken not to pull roots out of wall when breaking off leaves.

  19. Take the path ahead, leading through the bushes, to emerge onto a lane by a farm.

    Lichens are a partnership of two different organisms: a fungus providing the "accommodation" and an alga or cyanobacterium providing the "food" through photosynthesis. The fungal partner provides a cosy, sheltered environment for the alga and tends it with mineral nutrients. However, the alga partner is more than simply an imprisoned food-slave: it is such a closely-evolved alliance that the fungus is dependant on the alga for its structure. If the fungal partner is isolated and grown on an agar plate, it forms a shapeless, infertile blob.

  20. Cross the stile on the opposite side of the lane and follow the right hedge of the field past the buildings, over a stile and past the gateway to reach a stile in the corner of the far hedge.

    The settlement of Tregerthen was first recorded in 1361 as Tregeuran and later in 1519 as Tregyrthyn. It may possibly be based on the Cornish word for rowan trees. The current buildings date from Victorian times but several fragments of mediaeval stonework have been found dotted around the settlement.

  21. Cross the stile and follow the right hedge to a stile to the right of the gateway.

    The pattern of fields here is typical of Celtic farming, making it is one of the oldest continually-worked landscapes in the world.

    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.

  22. Cross the stile and cross the field to another stile to the right of the gateway.

    Many of the West Cornwall stiles are effectively cattle grids composed of pale granite bars against the dark ground.

    Whilst it's fairly obvious why cows are reluctant to cross a cattle grid, you might be surprised to learn that cows will also not cross a "virtual" cattle grid composed of dark and light lines painted on a completely solid surface. This even works with wild cattle who have never encountered a "real" cattle grid before and so is unlikely to be learned behaviour. It is thought that the reason is due to the limitations of cows' vision, specifically their limited depth perception means that they cannot discriminate between bars over a pit and a series of light and dark lines.

  23. Cross the double stile and head straight across the field to a stile opposite.

    The mermaid of Zennor is a Cornish folk tale, recorded in the 1870s. The story is of a beautiful and richly-dressed woman who occasionally attended services at St. Senara's Church and enchanted parishioners with her beauty and her voice, though they were intrigued that she never seemed to age over the many years she was seen. The mysterious woman became interested in a young man named Mathey Trewella - the best singer in the parish, and one day he followed her home and the two disappeared. Neither was seen again until a boat was anchored near Pendour Cove and a mermaid appeared, asking the crew to lift the anchor as its fluke was resting on her door and she could not reach her children. The crew recognised the mermaid as the mysterious woman who had sung at the church.

    The story is thought to have been inspired by the carved bench end in the church, rather than the other way around (some versions of the legend say that the church carving was created to celebrate the mermaid).

    More about the Mermaid chair.

  24. Cross the stile and then cross the field towards a gate opposite to reach an opening between granite boulders just before the gate.

    Stories of mythical half-woman half-fish creatures date back over 3000 years to Ancient Assyria and Greece and have been part of English culture for over 1000 years. The word "mermaid" comes from the old English word mere, meaning sea. Before the mid-19th Century, dugongs and manatees were routinely referred to as mermaids by mariners although in Cornwall, the most likely creature to be attributed to being a mermaid is a seal. The U.S. National Ocean Service felt it necessary to state in 2012 that no evidence of mermaids has ever been found.

  25. Go through the opening between the granite boulders then don't go through the gate but bear right slightly to pass the gate on your left, then follow the waymarked path along the wall on the left to reach a stile onto a lane.

    Not to be confused with the Mermaid of Zennor, the Moomaid of Zennor Ice Cream is made at the farm on your right.

    Ice Cream is made at Tremedda Farm using milk from their dairy herd (whom they term the "Moomaids of Zennor") combined with Rodda's clotted cream, which itself is made from local milk including that from Tremedda. The Tremedda cows have names that range from the traditional (Daisy and Primrose) to the less traditional ("Sid Vicious").

  26. Cross the lane and the stile directly opposite. Follow the right hedge of the field to a stile in the right-hand corner.

    The big hill on the left is Zennor Hill. At the top is a rock known as Logan Stone.

    A number of large rocking stones exist around Cornwall and are invariably given the name Logan Rock or Logan Stone. These are formed by weathering, where a horizontal crack is eroded away leaving a rounded boulder balanced on a block of granite. The word "logan" (pronounced "logg-un") is thought to be derived from the Cornish dialect word "log", meaning "to rock like a drunken man".

  27. Cross the stile then follow the right hedge to reach another stile in the far hedge.

    Female starlings seem to prefer mates with more complex songs - the thinking is that this correlates with greater longevity and experience. Consequently male starlings spice up their songs with imitations of about 20 other bird species, other natural sounds such as a frog "ribbit" and even man-made sounds such as a car horn or squealing toddler having a tantrum.

  28. Cross the stile and follow the narrow path along the edge of the field to reach another stile.

    Common gorse flowers have a coconut-like scent but rather than fresh coconut, it is reminiscent of desiccated coconut or the popular brand of surf wax, Mr Zoggs. However, not everyone experiences the smell in the same way: for some people it's very strong and for others it quite weak. One complicating factor is that Western Gorse flowers don't have any scent, so you need to be sniffing a tall gorse plant to test yourself.

    Flower scents are volatile organic compounds which drift though the air and has evolved as an advertisement to pollinating insects that nectar is available. Squeezing the flowers releases these compounds onto the surface where they can evaporate and therefore intensifies the smell. Similarly the warming effect of sunlight helps the compounds to evaporate faster and so the smell is more intense on sunny days.

    Before the Industrial Revolution, gorse was valued as a fuel for bread ovens and kilns as it burns rapidly, very hot and with little ash. It was in such demand that there were quite strict rules about how much gorse could be cut on common land.

    In more recent times, due to reliance on fossil fuels, this is now out of balance and gorse has increased in rural areas which have been abandoned agriculturally.

  29. Cross the stile and bear left slightly across the field towards the right-hand peak of the tor in the distance to reach a waymarked stone stile.

    The rocky hill ahead is Carn Galver.

    The name Carn Galver (sometimes written Carn Galva) is from the Cornish words karn (rock pile or tor) and gwelva (view-point), referring to the rocky crags at the top of the moor that overlook the coast.

  30. Cross the waymarked stile and follow the right hedge to another stone stile. Cross this and walk across the field to the stile on the right of the gate.

    Every part of the dandelion plant is edible and is high in Vitamin A and higher still in Vitamin K. The leaves can be eaten in salads, though their bitterness is not to everyone's taste. However, the bitterness can be reduced by blanching: drop the leaves into boiling salted water and remove after a minute and quench in ice-cold water to prevent the leaves from cooking.

    There are folk tales of a giant called Holiburn who was said to live amongst the rocks of Carn Galva. He was depicted as a very amiable and somewhat sociable gentleman and even married a farmers daughter resulting in somewhat tall offspring. He was also said to have had a human friend from Choone who used to visit to play quoits but the giant one day patted his friend farewell slightly too firmly and accidentally killed him.

  31. Cross the stile and cross the field, in the direction waymarked, to the right of the protruding hedge. Follow along the hedge, keeping it on your left, to reach a stile between the two gates in the far hedge.

    Across Cornwall there is a rich vocabulary for terms of endearment. my 'ansome (usually directed at men by women) and my luvver are the most well-known. my beauty is also fairly well-known. my robin is used in West Cornwall, possibly more by the older generation, as is my burd (sometimes written my bird, but reported to be from the same origin as "buddy") or my pard. my cock or my cocker are also in use. You can encounter my luvvly in West Cornwall, possibly more amongst the younger generation, although there is some fairly heated debate over whether this is regarded as "proper" dialect. There are reports that my 'ansome is in also use Newfoundland.

  32. Cross the stile and follow the right hedge to another stile, to the right of the gate. Cross this and continue along the right hedge to a final stile beside a building.
  33. Cross the stile and follow the path down to the lane. Turn left onto the lane and follow it back past the pub to the car park.

    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.

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