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Giant Steps and Staircases at Bedruthan

Exploring the spectacular coastal landscape at Bedruthan Steps and Park Head.

Distance 4.5 miles (7.2km)

Minimum time 2hrs 30min

Ascent/gradient 131ft (40m)

Level of difficulty Easy

Paths Coastal paths and field paths. Coast path very close to unguarded cliff edges in some places. Take care in windy weather and with children and dogs. 1 stile

Landscape Spectacular cliffs and dramatic sea stacks

Suggested map aqua3 OS Explorer 106 Newquay and Padstow

Start/finish SW 850691

Dog friendliness Dogs on lead through grazed areas

Parking National Trust car park at Carnewas. Or at the National Trust Park Head car park, grid reference: SW 851706, from where the walk can also be started at Point e

Public toilets Carnewas car park

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1 From Carnewas car park, go through a gap in the wall on the right of the National Trust shop, then, in a few paces, bear off to the left at a junction. Follow the path to a crossing of paths and go straight across and down a grassy path to the dramatic view from Carnewas Point of Bedruthan Beach and the sea stacks. Return to the crossing and follow a path left along the cliff edge. (Take note of warning notices.) At a junction with a cobbled path, go left and descend to a dip at Pendarves Point.

2 At a junction in the dip, go down left to reach the top of the cliff staircase. On re-ascending the staircase, go back uphill to the junction with the coast path and turn left past a National Trust sign for 'Carnewas'. Follow the coast path alongside a wooden fence and below a parking area with picnic tables above.

3 Pass Redcliff Castle, then, where the path forks by a signpost, follow either fork to where they rejoin. Keep to the right of a stone wall, that has tamarisk trees sprouting from it, to reach a wooden kissing gate. Continue along the open clifftop to reach a set of wooden gates on the right.

4 Go right and through the smaller gate, then follow a permissive footpath along field edges. Just before the buildings at Pentire, turn right through a gate and follow field edges to reach Parkhead car park.

5 Turn left and go left down a surfaced lane. Just before the Pentire buildings go through a gate on the right, signposted 'Porthmear Beach and Park Head'. Bear left across the field to a stile and gateway. Bear right down the next field to a wooden kissing gate in its bottom corner. Go through the gate and follow a path through a wetland area to join the coast path above the attractive Porth Mear.

6 Go left and follow the coast path steadily uphill and then round Park Head. Take care when close to the cliff edges. At a memorial plaque above High Cove, divert to the promontory of Park Head itself. Return to the plaque and follow the coast path south to Point 4. Retrace your steps to Point 2, in the dip above the start of the cliff staircase. Follow the cobbled walkway uphill and back to Carnewas car park.

The flat, unremarkable countryside that lies inland from Bedruthan Steps belies the stupendous nature of the area's coastline. Green fields run to the sliced-off edges of 300ft (90m) cliffs. At the foot of the cliffs lie dramatic rock islands that at high tide are besieged by crashing waves and at low tide, spring from a smooth expanse of golden, sea-damp sand. This was Victorian 'picturesque' at its most melodramatic and the area was popular with 'excursionists' in the late 19th century. The islands, or stacks, are portrayed as being the stepping stones of a legendary giant called Bedruthan, but this conceit blew in with the first of the Victorian tourists. The stacks acquired picturesque names such as 'The Queen Bess Rock', which, before losing its head to erosion, was said to resemble the figure of Elizabeth I, who never lost her head in any sense.

For many years, before tourists and tall tales of giants, there were flights of steps cut into the cliff faces below Carnewas and further north at Pentire in the crook of coastline south of Park Head. These staircases were known as Carnewas Steps and Pentire Steps and were probably used by local people to collect seaweed and to land cargoes, legitimate or otherwise. Miners may also have sought access to the beach. There was 19th-century mining at Carnewas - the National Trust shop and tearoom are housed in old mine buildings - and tin, copper and lead may have originally been extracted from tunnels, known as adits, at the base of the cliffs.

Today you can reach Bedruthan Beach down a secure staircase reached from the coast path, part way along the route of the walk from the start at Carnewas car park. A descent of the beach staircase is worthwhile,. From the top of the steps the coast path leads north towards Park Head passing on the way, the vestigial remains of Redcliff Castle, an Iron Age fortified settlement whose landward embankments are all that remain of a protruding headland long since collapsed into the sea. From beyond Redcliff Castle, one of the finest views of Bedruthan Beach can be had; but do not go too close to the cliff edge. The circuit of Park Head, via the pleasant cove of Porth Mear, rounds off the walk. You can walk out to the promontory of Park Head itself passing through the defensive banks of another Iron Age fortified settlement across the neck of the headland. From here the coast path leads back past Redcliff Castle and then to Carnewas.

What to look for

At low water on the beach watch out for turnstones, brisk little birds with chestnut and black and white plumage and small heads. They dash across the damp sand 'turning' over stones in search of tiny shellfish and sandhoppers. Along the tops of the cliffs watch also for the silent, unflappable flight of the stubby-winged fulmar. This remarkable seabird was once found only in far northern waters and is believed to have spread south by following herring fishing boats returning to their English ports. The first fulmar to be identified in Cornish waters was spotted by fishermen during the 1930s. The fulmar has two small holes on its upper beak through which it ejects a foul-smelling green liquid at predators. Don't get too close.

Where to eat and drink

There are no refreshment opportunities on the route, but there is a National Trust Tearoom at Carnewas car park. Open in summer, 10:30-5:30.

While you're there

A descent of the cliff staircase to Bedruthan Beach should not be missed as part of this walk, if you feel fit enough. The steps have been ably secured by the National Trust and are protected from the risk of falling stones by vast swathes of wire netting fixed to the beetling cliff faces above. The steps are steep and there are 139 of them - or thereabouts. Be careful on the rocky foreshore where the rock can be very slippery. At low tide you can explore the beach, but be very aware of tide times; the flooding tide can cut you off very quickly. The day's tide times are usually displayed at the top of the steps. You are not advised to swim from Bedruthan Beach. The staircase is closed to the public November-February.

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