Cornwall: Going round in stone circles

Weekend walk: Jonathan Sale makes tracks in Penwith
Click to follow
The Independent Online
Morvah sounds like an Old Testament city put to the sword by the Medes and Persians. It is in fact a small village on a loop off the B3306, the narrow, winding and up-and-down coast road along the rocky north coast of Cornwall stretching from St Ives to St Just. It is also the starting- point for a circular walk in the Penwith district that takes you past ancient stones, disused tin mines and a stretch of the South West Coast Path that is less feted than the well-trod Zennor section to the east.

Walking along the B3306 towards St Ives, you immediately see on the right- hand side of the road a yellow arrow indicating the first of several stone stiles. These lead to a minor road which, as you follow it to the right, rapidly becomes a minor track. Turn left at a crossroads, or rather, cross- tracks, and almost immediately a faded sign points to a grassy path on the right.

Ahead, through bramble and gorse, looms Chun Quoit, a 12ft-square "capstone" resting on four uprights (well, they're more or less upright). The most striking of the third millennium BC chambered tombs in the Penwith region, it was originally the centre of an eroded long barrow 35ft in diameter.

An arrow set into the path here points left to Chun Castle. The high point of the walk - the spot is 216 metres above sea level - this Iron Age fort was constructed in the third century BC. Its walls, faced with granite blocks, form two low, battered circles.

Return to the Quoit and keep going in the same direction, on a path that takes you over the magnificently named Woon Gumpus Common. Arrows and stone stiles lead to a wide track which hits a road junction. Continue in the same direction along the road (sign to Levant Mine) but leave it very soon at a bend by taking the substantial track to your left. Where this bends sharply left to a farm, go straight ahead up a footpath which passes, via a short detour to your left, a striking rocky outcrop known as Carn Kenidjack.

The path carries on up a hill so spectacular that someone left a radio mast on it. From here can be seen a horizon filled with tin mine chimneys. Clearly dating back to the days before planning permission was required, they represent a substantial portion of Cornwall's industrial revolution. Carry on down from here, across a track and over a stone stile, until the footpath comes out at a house named (doubtless correctly, although for me the mist got in the way) Atlantic View. The road leads to the tiny village of Carnyorth.

Cross over the T junction with our old friend the B3306 on to a road that develops into a track. Go over a stone stile, then bear left along a rough footpath along the side of a field. Keep the mine chimney roughly ahead and aim to the left of a small village named Nineveh (just like the one in the Old Testament which really was destroyed by the Medes).

Turn right on to a track and then immediately left into a field. The last of the inland stretch, it is also the trickiest, a basic westwards scramble along the side of fields as first one and then another mine chimney heaves into view. When you finally reach them, you are on the coast path, the easy bit for the directionally challenged. Turn right and you reach, just after Botallack Head clinging to the cliffs and sticking out into the Atlantic, the 1840 Levant Beam Engine, which is now in the care of the National Trust.

The next stretch displays a fascinating struggle between the old industrial desolation caused by mining and the new vegetation seeking to cover it. Soon Cornwall's dark Botallack mills are left behind and the view ahead shows the features Cornwall is so good at: breakers, headlands, tall chimneys and, just beyond the low volcanic slab of The Avarack, the lighthouse on the bulge known as Pendeen Watch. Off the shore is The Wra or Three Stone Oar, a lethal rock demonstrating why the lighthouse seemed such a good idea in the first place.

On the other side of this headland lies Portheras Cove, the only beach on our rocky walk. Crossing a stream on the far side and going up the side of a hill, you come to a signpost indicating a choice of route. For the shorter option, follow the arrow pointing inland on a path leading to a road. At a right-hand bend with a building on each side of the road, climb a stone stile beside a patch of grass on the left. Go straight across the field and pick up a succession of stiles that take you to a farm gate. Morvah church is just a few more yards down the road to your left.

For the slightly longer, and more pleasant, option, take the left fork along the cliffs, turning right at the acorned signpost next to a small hut. Follow the nettles until you come to Morvah church.

Ordnance Survey: Landranger 203 (Land's End). Coast of Cornwall Leaflet 11 (Cape Cornwall to Logan Rock) covers part of this walk; send 80p plus a first-class stamp to: National Trust, Cornwall Regional Office, Llanhydrock, Bodmin, Cornwall PL30 4DE.

Comments