Section 2. Zennor to St Just - Cornwall Coast Path
Distance 11.5 miles Grade - 7.5 miles Severe/Strenuous and 4 miles moderate - What these grades mean.
Today you will round the top end of the Wild, West Penwith peninsular and start the long trek towards Lands End. Passing your first disused engine house at Treen Cove Mine you quickly reach the spectacular Gurnards Head – one of the most striking and recognisable headlands in Cornwall and named after its likeness to that of the Red Gurnard Fish.
The 2nd Century cliff castle here has an inner rampart said to be designed for the firing of sling stones and inside this spot the remains of 18 hut circles are visible as circular grassy platforms. Inland, rising above you now, are the daunting and dominating moorland peaks of Carn Galver and Watchcroft, the highest points in the last hill range in England and the natural gateway to the mysterious Neolithic and prehistoric sights and stones of the Penwith moor.
The cliffs are now penetrated by “Zawns” a West Cornwall word for narrow steep-sided chasms sliced out of the cliffs by the sea. Great Zawn, the first of these, leads you into Bosigran Head where ant like rock climbers are seen at distance crawling up classic climbs such as Desolation Row, Xanadu and Dream in the South West’s best area for sea climbing.
A plaque notifies you that you are now entering the imposing humpback known as Commando Ridge - the training ground for the Rock Climbing Commandos during the second world war. At Porthmoina well preserved remains of 19C stamping mills lie just below the coast path, and further on you pass the Holy Well at Morvah. At the end of this run of cliffs you find isolated Pendeen Lighthouse, built in 1900 and giving superb panoramas over the rocks and cliffs and towards the mining remains in the surrounding hills. On some days you can take a tour of the lighthouse but a better diversion is inland to fascinating Geevor Mine.
From Pendeen, joining aged trails of tinners and miners that criss-cross the green tinged copper cliffs walk on through ever more prolific and dramatic chimneys, tanks and engine houses clinging to the sides of the precipices. The trail takes you through the dressing floors of the Levant Mine now owned by the National Trust with the oldest surviving Beam engine still working on regular steaming days. One of the few mines to use pit ponies in tunnels that stretched far out under the ocean, miners at Levant would talk of the fear of hearing the rumbling of boulders being shifted by the Atlantic over their heads in Stormy weather.
The collapsing remains of harsh Atlantic digging are all around you now as you follow the trail along the head of the cliffs passing simply awesome mine engine houses at Botallack hanging desperately to the cliffs.
Towards the end of the day you reach the Iron age fort at Kenidjack Castle home now to Buzzard, Falcon and Ravens. Descending quickly into the valley you pass everything from a bronze age cairn, 18C rifle range butts to the remains of water powered crushing stamps used to pound the ore from the mines. The path crosses old leats or narrow water channels dug into the moorland 200 years ago before reaching the remains of an old Arsenic wheel pit and an ancient calciner which removed the deadly powder from the ore by turning it to vapour. Finally some stunning views of isolated Cape Cornwall ahead tell you its time to turn inland to St Just.
The Ancient Stones of Cornwall - Inland Option
Close to the coast path where it passes the Carn Galvour Mine is the chance to head inland traversing the boulder strewn peaks of Watch Croft and Caln Glava to reach the high plateau behind and an amazing concentration of ancient sites and stones. The first is the most modern, the Men Scryfa an inscribed granite pillar commemorating the death of Rialobran who is believed to have been a sixth century chieftain. Further on the dramatic nine maiden’s stone circle sits close to the stark and lonely Ding Dong mine engine house.
A few hundred metres further is the remains of the excavated Bosiliack Barrow with its huge granite slabs over a dark chamber passageway. The 1984 excavation surmised that topsoil and turf were placed in the chamber probably as ritual deposits associated with fertility of the land.With fantastic views across the peninsular to St Michaels Mount you will easily spot the gigantic and stunning Lanyon quoit or locally the Giants Table. A classic Megalithic Tomb chamber, its huge 13 tonne granite slab sitting precariously on stone uprights, a mini Stonehenge that is older even than the pyramids.Heading back to the coast path you then come across Cornwall’s most unique stones the Men-an-Tol also known as the Devils Eye.
A set of upright menhirs (standing stones) are separated by a “female” circular stone set on its edge. Throughout time the stones have held a mythical importance to the Cornish here, from the middle ages onwards naked children and babies were passed through the hole 3 times to cure illness and rituals to encourage an abundance of crops , cattle and fertility were practised here for centuries after the original Stone Age communities erected them. If you do try it yourself then any women wanting to become pregnant apparently had to go through 9 times - so don’t carried away.
If time allows scale the peak at Watchcroft for fantastic views over the coast path as well as more Bronze Age barrows, a menhir (standing stone) as and several disused mine workings on the slopes back to the coast path. The walk is around 5 miles and is a great contrast to the coast. If you make an early start you can walk a shorter section of coast path on the day from Zennor and incorporate this 5 mile walk into a fairly strenuous but rewarding day giving a total of 13 miles and an overnight stop at Pendeen. Or take a rest day at Zennor or Pendeen where it is easy to arrange a walk of around 6 miles through the stones and back to either base taking in ever more ancient spots on route as the whole moor is awash with them. Finally anyone keen to visit the best preserved ancient settlement in Britain can wander through the unique stone shells of an iron age village of 8 dwellings with hearths and courtyards still in place at Chysauster. (Click here to see more). Talk to us about taking an extra night in Zennor and we can arrange for you to walk back to Zennor over the moor on a trip of about 6 miles after visiting the impressive remains.