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Golden Beaches and Cliffs at Porthcurno

Along interlocking footpaths between sandy coves and granite cliffs on the Land's End Peninsula.

Distance 3.5 miles (5.7km)

Minimum time 2hrs 30min

Ascent/gradient 164ft (50m)

Level of difficulty Easy

Paths Coastal footpath

Landscape Granite sea cliffs and inland heath

Suggested map aqua3 OS Explorer 107 St Austell & Liskeard

Start/finish SW 384224

Dog friendliness Dogs should be kept under control on beaches

Parking Porthcurno, St Levan and Porthgwarra

Public toilets Porthgwarra and Porthleven

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1 From Porthcurno car park, walk back up the approach road, then just before Sea View House, turn sharply left along a track and follow it to reach cottages. Keep around to the front of cottages. Go through a metal kissing gate in the wall opposite, then follow a path through the middle of a field past a granite cross and through a wooden gate.

2 Enter St Levan churchyard by a granite stile. Go round the far side of the church to the entrance gate and on to a surfaced lane. Cross the lane and follow the path opposite, signed to Porthgwarra Cove. Cross a footbridge, then in about 55yds (50m), at a junction, take the right fork and follow the path, keeping ahead across a field, to merge with the main coast path and keep ahead.

3 Where the path begins to descend towards Porthgwarra Cove, branch off right up five wooden steps. Reach a surfaced track by a house and turn up right, then at a road, turn left.

4 Go round a sharp left-hand bend, then at a footpath signpost, go right down a grassy path and cross a stone footbridge. Continue uphill to reach a bend on a track, just up from large granite houses.

5 Turn left, go over a stile beside a gate, then continue down a surfaced lane to Porthgwarra Cove. Just past the shop and cafe, and opposite a red phone box, go right down a track, signposted 'Coast Path', then follow the path round to the left. Just past a house, go sharp right at the junction and climb up the steps.

6 Continue along the coast path, partly reversing the previous route past Point 3. Keep right at a junction, and eventually descend past St Levan's Well to just above Porth Chapel Beach. (Dogs should be on a lead.) Follow the coast path steeply over Pedn-mên-an-mere, and continue to the Minack Theatre car park.

7 For the surefooted, cross the car park and go down the track to the left of the Minack complex, then descend the steep cliff steps, with great care. When the path levels off, continue to a junction. The right fork takes you to Porthcurno Beach and back to the car park. A less challenging alternative to the cliff steps is to turn left out of the Minack car park. Follow the approach road to a T-junction with a public road. Turn right, watching out for traffic.

Land's End may be the ultimate visitor destination in Cornwall. It is the most westerly point certainly and its cliffs are nothing less than spectacular; but for the true aficionado of coastal scenery, the granite cliffs of Porthcurno and Porthgwarra, to the south of Land's End, are hard to beat for their beauty and sculpted form. The area has even more esoteric distinction. Gwennap Head, at Porthgwarra, is the most southerly point on the Land's End Peninsula. The Atlantic tidal flow divides at the base of Gwennap's spectacular Chair Ladder cliff, one flow running eastwards up the English Channel, the other running north, up St George's Channel between Britain and Ireland. Partly because of this, Gwennap Head is sometimes known as 'the Fishermen's Land's End', a title that rather puts the other Land's End in its place.

This walk starts at Porthcurno, where a sweeping expanse of almost white shell sand lies at the heart of an arc of golden granite cliffs that embrace the small bay. On the south side lies the rocky coxcomb of Treryn Dinas, or Logan Rock. To the north is the famous Minack Open Air Theatre, built within the rocky ribs of the headland. The final section of the walk passes the Minack, but first the route leads inland and across fields to the splendid little Church of St Levan, couched in one of the few sheltered spots on this robust coast. Below the church a shallow valley runs down to Chapel Porth Beach, more besieged by tides than Porthcurno, but still a delightful place, especially in summer. Again the beach here is left for later in the walk, whose route now leads along the coast path and then climbs inland before dropping down to Porthgwarra Cove, where tunnels and caverns in the cliff were carved out by farmers and fishermen to give better access to the narrow beach. From Porthgwarra, you head back along the coast path to Porth Chapel. The path leads you down past the little Well of St Levan. Below here there is a rocky access path to the beach.

The route of the walk leads steeply up to Rospletha Point and then to the remarkable cliff face theatre at Minack. From here, the most direct way down to Porthcurno Beach is by a series of very steep steps that may not suit everyone. But if you don't mind the vertiginous experience, the views really are outstanding. You can avoid this descent by some judicious road walking. Either way Porthcurno's glorious beach is at hand in the cove below you.

Where to eat and drink

There is a seasonal café at Porthgwarra, ideally located at the midway point in the walk. Porthcurno has several outlets including the Beach Café and the Cable Inn. A seasonal ice cream and soft drinks van is usually located in the Porthcurno car park.

What to look for

The Minack Theatre was the unusual creation of Rowena Cade, whose family bought the rocky headland above Porthcurno Beach in the 1920s. A general interest in theatre led to the staging of Shakespeare's The Tempest on a makeshift stage on the cliffs in 1932. Miss Cade, ably assisted by skilled local gardeners and builders then developed the Minack over many years into a full scale theatre, carved out of the cliffs, a Cornish version in miniature of the great classical theatres of Greece and Rome, but with a stupendous backdrop. Today atmospheric performances of a variety of plays and musicals are staged during the summer months. A Minack performance is an unbeatable experience. Wine and light clothes for balmy summer evenings; full scale waterproofs and hot chocolate otherwise.

While you're there

The Museum of Submarine Telegraphy at Porthcurno, located above the top end of the car park, rewards a visit. It records the long history of undersea cable telegraphy. In its time, Porthcurno was the world's largest international cable station. The museum is contained within underground tunnels that served as a secret communications base during the Second World War.

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