Clifftop paths between resorts that were once mining villages.
Tall chimneys of undressed stone, perched on cliffs or tucked away in sheltered valleys, are reminders of the days when tin and copper were among the mainstays of Cornwall’s economy. The cliffs between St Ives Bay and Perranporth are best seen from the long strip of National Trust land which links Godrevy Point and Portreath. The great walls of rock are punctuated by sandy, stream washed coves reached by narrow lanes.
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Godrevy Point – Low cliffs above the flat rocks, dappled with low tide pools, which flank the dangerous channel between Godrevy Point and Godrevy Island. The island and its neighbouring rocks claimed many victims before the lighthouse was built in 1859. They include the ship which went down in 1649, laden with Charles I’s wardrobe and other personal possessions. Virginia Woolf knew this part of Cornwall well, and her novel To The Lighthouse refers to Godrevy.
The narrow road to Godrevy Point’s car park skirts the northern end of St Ives Bay where it is crossed by the Red River. As its name implies, this river is stained by the waste from old tin mines. A short walk leads to Navax Point, where grey seals breed and caves reached only from the sea run far into the headland. Gannets, shearwaters, fulmers and other sea birds may be seen in summer and autumn.
Basset’s Cove – This rocky cove is the man feature of the long strip of National Trust land which runs almost unbroken from Godrevy Point across Hudder Down, Reskajaege Downs and Carvannel Downs to Portreath. The flat-topped cliffs are ideal for bracing walks, and a few steep paths zigzag down to secluded coves.
Portreath – Francis Basset, a member of one of Cornwall’s wealthiest families, leased land for the building of a pier at Portreath in 1760. It evolved into a thriving little harbour, serving the local tin and copper mines. Ships laden with ore sailed to Swansea and returned with Welsh coal to fuel the engine-houses whose pumps fought a constant battle to prevent flooding in the mines. Coasters visited harbours until the 1960’s but when trade ceased the nearby land was turned in to an estate of cottages.
The sandy beach is popular with tourists and surfers with lifeguards patrolling in the summer.
Porthtowan – Extensive low-tide sands have made Porthtowan a popular holiday village. Cottages, apartments, caravans and shops overlook the beach. The clifftop path between Porthtowan and Portreath crosses Nancekuke Common.
Chapel Porth – Reached by a narrow lane from St Agnes, this delightful cove takes its name from an ancient chapel which once stood in a secluded valley near the sea. The lane ends in a National Trust car park at the head of a sandy, shingle-backed beach flanked by rocks.
The beach runs southwards to Porthtowan at low water backed by lofty cliffs. The Chapel Porth nature trail, which takes about 2 hours, blends natural history and industrial archaeology with splendid views. It passes the ruined Charlotte United mine, where copper workings extend out under the sea, and runs northwards as far as Wheal Coates mine below St Anges Beacon. Buzzards, jackdaws, ravens, wrens and many sea-birds are likely to be seen on the walk.
St Agnes Beacon – Paths flanked by gorse and heather take walkers to the 629 ft (190m) summit of a hill from which beacon fires blazed to warn of the approach of the Spanish Armada in 1588. Nearly 30 miles of coast can be seen on a clear day. The land belongs to the National Trust, which also owns the remains of the nearby Wheal Coates mine where tin and copper were worked in the 19th century. The mine’s Towanroath shaft reached a depth of more than 600 ft (180m) before Wheal Coates closed in 1889. Fountains of spray rise from the mine shaft when gale-driven waves pour in to connecting tunnels at the foot of the cliffs.
Grey seal can sometimes be seen swimming off St Agnes Head. The cliffs are a breeding ground for kittiwakes, fulmars, guillemots and herring gulls.
Trevaunance Cove – Cliffs tower above a beach of shingle-backed sand of one of Cornwall’s lost ports. Generation after generation of men from St Agnes built harbours from the tin and copper trade, but the relentless sea invariably destroyed them. One, built in 1699, survived for only six years. Cargoes were unloaded by horse-powered windlasses, mounted in the cliffs, while the ore went thundering down a series of chutes. Tumbling blocks of granite are all that remain of the last harbour, built early in the 19th century; finally falling into decay in 1920.
St Agnes, set on high ground to the south, was one of the mining industry’s most important centres. Its Polberro mine alone employed 500 people in the 1830’s and at one time was the country’s largest producers of tin; it added Royal to its name after being visited by Queen Victoria in 1846. Slate and granite houses, some dating from the early 18th century, line the main street, and old miners cottages stand in a stepped terrace known as Stippy Stappy.
Trevallas Porth – A steep lane, at one point just wide enough for a car, runs from Trevellas village to this greyish sand cove backed cliffs. It lies at the mouth of Trevellas Coombe, a deep valley where two tall, stone built chimneys and the shell of derelict engine-houses are all that remain of the old Blue Hills tin mine. It opened in 1830 and closed in 1897. The whole vally throbbed with mining activity in the 19th century, but has gradually been returned to nature.
Perranporth – ‘Piran’s Port’ recalls the legend of St Piran, who is said to have sailed from Ireland on a millstone in the Celtic ‘Age of Saints’ about 1300 years ago. Gear Sands, where he built his first church, is now a huge expanse of dunes.
Topped with turf in places, the dunes run deep down to a superb sandy beach which sweeps northwards for more than 2 miles to Ligger Point and is at least half a mile wide at low-tide.
Now a popular and compact little holiday resort, Perranporth was originally a mining village where tin and copper were worked in the Middle Ages. Later ventures included driving a horizontal shaft from a cove on Cligga Head right in to the heart of Perranporth. Old mine shafts still pit Cligga Head, sharing a viewpoint with ruined coastal defences.