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Ancient Walls on the Lonely Dodman

A circuit of the headland of Dodman Point, where Iron Age people established a fortified encampment.

Distance 4.5 miles (7.2km)

Minimum time 3hrs

Ascent/gradient 377ft (115m)

Level of difficulty Easy

Paths Good coastal paths. Inland paths can be muddy, 9 stiles

Landscape Open fields and coastal cliffs

Suggested map aqua3 OS Explorer 105 Falmouth & Mevagissey

Start/finish SX 011415

Dog friendliness Dogs on lead through grazed areas

Parking Gorran Haven car park, pay at kiosk

Public toilets Gorran Haven

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1 Turn left on leaving the car park and walk down to Gorran Haven harbour. Just before the access to the beach, turn right up Fox Hole Lane, then go up steps, signposted 'Vault Beach'. Go up more steps, and then through a gate. Follow the coast path ahead, past a sign for the National Trust property of Lamledra.

2 Keep left at a junction below a rocky outcrop. A steep alternative path leads up right from here, past a memorial plaque, to rejoin the main coast path. On the main route however go down some stone steps and follow the path along the slope. At a junction, keep right. The left-hand track at this junction leads down to Vault Beach from where you can regain the coastal path by another track leading uphill. Keep left at the next junction.

3 Go left over a stile and follow a path through scrubland. Keep ahead at a junction signed 'Dodman Point' then go over a stile onto open ground. Continue on this footpath to the summit of Dodman Point.

4 As you approach the large granite cross on the summit of the Dodman, reach a first junction from where a path going right leads to the Watch House. Continue towards the cross on the summit and then, just before the cross and at the next junction and arrow post, go right along the coast path.

5 Go over a stile beyond a gate with an access notice pinned to it. Reach a junction in a few paces. Turn right and follow the path between the high banks of the Bulwark.

6 Keep ahead where a path comes in from the right. Follow the hedged track to reach a kissing gate and a surfaced lane at Penare. Turn right along the lane.

7 At a junction leave the road and go through a field gate signposted 'Treveague'. Keep across two fields, then at a road end by houses, turn right, signposted 'Gorran Haven'. Go left at another signpost and go along a drive behind a house, bearing round right. Go left through a gate and then along a path above a small valley.

8 Cross a muddy area by some stepping stones, then go through a gate. Follow the driveway ahead to a T-junction with the public road. Turn right and walk down, with care as there can be traffic, to Gorran Haven car park.

The high and lonely headland of Dodman Point thrusts its great bulk into the sea near Mevagissey and Gorran Haven, forming the eastern arch of Veryan Bay, on the south coast of Cornwall. Local people make no bones about the name. To them this dark and brooding promontory has always been the 'Deadman'. It was recorded as such on old maps. The source of the name may be prosaic, of course, a probable distortion of an ancient Cornish word; but 'Deadman' strikes a suitably menacing echo with the nearby Vault Beach and with the threatening names of such tideline rocks as the Bell and Mean-lay that lie at the base of the 328ft (100m) Dodman cliffs. By whatever name, the Dodman is a natural fortress, and across its broad shoulders lies a massive earthen embankment, the landward defences of a 'promontory fort'. This is one of a number of such protected farm settlements that dates back to the Cornish Iron Age.

The first part of the walk leads from the village of Gorran Haven along the coastal footpath to the great sweep of Vault Beach, or Bow Beach, as it is also known. From above the beach the path rises steadily to the broad-backed promontory of the Dodman. The headland is crowned with a sepulchral granite cross placed there in 1896 by the Reverend George Martin, Rector of nearby St Michael Caerhays. Whether or not the cross was placed as a navigation aid or as a religious gesture is not entirely clear. The inscription on the cross argues for Martin's religious certainties above all. Just inland from the cross (Directions Point 4), but hidden by scrub, is the Dodman Watch House, a charming survivor of the late 18th century. This much restored little building was an Admiralty signal station, part of a chain of similar structures along the English Channel Coast. It was used in later years by coastguards and has been restored by the National Trust.

From the Dodman, the route follows the coast path for a short distance along the headland's western flank to where a gate allows access to fields that bear the vestigial marks of prehistoric and medieval cultivation systems. On the main route, you turn off the coast path here to follow the line of a great Iron Age earthwork, known as the Bulwark. This is an impressive piece of engineering, even by today's standards, some 2,000ft (609 m) in length and over 12ft (4m) high. Eventually a track leads to the serene hamlet of Penare and then across fields and down a little valley back into Gorran Haven.

What to look for

In Cornwall, 'hedges' generally means granite or slate walls that are bound together with earth and that tend to become dense with mosses and vegetation. All along the damp lanes of the field tracks and on the great embankment of the Bulwark look for common, but colourful plant species which thrive in these conditions. Look for red valerian, with its pink and red flowers, the pink and white dog rose, the violet-coloured selfheal and the cream-coloured honeysuckle.

While you're there

Explore Gorran Haven, a village with a redoubtable history and with a character that is still intact. Once a busy fishing port engaged in seining for pilchards, the Haven was also visited by larger vessels trading in coal and limestone. Lime for 'sweetening' local fields was extracted from the limestone in a kiln by the beach. Visit the fine little Chapel of St Just in Church Street, the restored version of a medieval building that at one time was even used as a fishermen's store.

Where to eat and drink

There are no refreshment places along the route of the walk. The Old Customs House licensed café and restaurant in Gorran Haven serves meals all day. Next door is a shop where you can buy ice cream and cakes. The Haven Café, further down towards the beach, serves fish and chips to take away. Gorran Haven's pub is the Llawnroc Inn. It is reached by walking up Church Street from the entrance to the beach, and then by going left up Chute Lane.

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