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High Cliffs and a High Hill at St Agnes

A bracing walk along the cliffs at St Agnes, followed by an inland climb to the top of St Agnes Beacon.

Distance 5 miles (8km)

Minimum time 3hrs

Ascent/gradient 623ft (190m)

Level of difficulty Medium

Paths Good coastal footpaths and inland tracks

Landscape Dramatic coastal cliffs and a high heath-covered hill

Suggested map aqua3 OS Explorer 104 Redruth & St Agnes

Start/finish SW 699512

Dog friendliness Dogs on lead through grazed areas

Parking St Agnes Head. Number of parking spaces along the clifftop track. Start the walk from any of these

Public toilets Chapel Porth Beach

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1 Join the coastal footpath from wherever you park along the cliff top. Follow the stony track across Tubby's Head. Branch off right onto a narrower path about 100yds (91m) before old mine buildings (these are the remains of Wheal Coates mine). Cross a stone stile and continue to Towanroath mine engine house.

2 About 50yds (46m) beyond Towanroath branch off right at a signpost and descend to Chapel Porth Beach.

3 Cross the stream at the back corner of the car park and follow a path up Chapel Combe next to the stream. Pass below a mine building and where the path forks among trees, go left through a wooden kissing gate.

4 Cross a bridge then turn right onto a track. Continue along a grassy track. Where the track narrows, keep ahead at a fork. Keep alongside a field and onto a track, turn left over a wooden stile by a gate onto a track. After 50yds (46m), reach a junction with a wide track. Turn left and continue to a public road.

5 Turn right along the public road, and keep ahead at a junction. In 200yds (183m), next to the entrance to the Sunholme Hotel, continue up a stony track on the left. After 50yds (46m), at a junction, go left and follow a path rising to the obvious summit of St Agnes Beacon.

6 From the summit of the Beacon follow the lower of two tracks, heading north west, down towards a road. Just before you reach the road turn right along a narrow path, skirting the base of the hill, eventually emerging at the road by a seat.

7 Cross over and follow the track opposite, across New Downs, directly to the edge of the cliffs, then turn left at a junction with the coast path and return to the car park.

The awesome sea cliffs of St Agnes Head are well hidden from above. There is no easy view, unless you are a very skilled rock climber. On St Agnes Head and on Carn Gowla, the cliff that runs south from the headland, vast 300ft (90m) high walls of rock soar from an ever restless sea. They do not end at clear-cut edges, however. Instead they merge with gentle slopes of grass and heather that in turn rise gently to the cliff top. Yet you are always aware of the exhilarating exposure of these great gulfs as you stroll safely by.

This walk takes you along the flat cliff top tracks and past the little promontory of Tubby's Head, once an Iron Age settlement fortified by an earth embankment across its neck. From here you pass through what was once an industrious mining landscape that is signposted by the remains of mine buildings such as the mighty Towanroath Shaft, a granite castle-keep of a building standing directly above the sea amidst swathes of pink thrift and cream-coloured bladder campion in summer. Built in 1872, this was the pumping house for the Wheal Coates mine whose buildings, further uphill, you see from the coast path. Flooding of the deeper Cornish mines was always a major problem and separate pumping houses were built to draw up water and eject it through tunnels, known as adits, in the cliff face below. The buildings of Towanroath Shaft were skilfully restored by the National Trust in the early 1970s.

Beyond Towanroath the path descends into Chapel Porth where you can enjoy the delights of a typical Cornish beach; but during the 19th century the entire valley floor that leads down to the cove was given over to the processing of the mineral ore that came from dozens of tin and copper mines, scattered across the surrounding landscape. As you walk up the valley, you pick your way through a landscape now overgrown by nature, but that was once subdued by industry. From the valley floor the route leads up a delightful valley, protected from the harsh onshore weather by high ground. Soon, you climb onto the bare, rounded summit of St Agnes Beacon, 629ft (192m) high and a superb viewpoint. As the name makes clear, this prominent hilltop was used traditionally for the lighting of signal fires and for celebratory bonfires. From the Beacon's airy heights you drop down effortlessly to the coast once more.

Where to eat and drink

There is a seasonal café at Chapel Porth, at the midway point of the walk. St Agnes village has a couple of good pubs where you can get bar meals.

While you're there

Spend some time in St Agnes, a highly individual village with some fascinating features including a picturesque stepped terrace of houses known famously as Stippy Stappy, one of the most photographed subjects in Cornwall. St Agnes's beach is at Trevaunance Cove, to the north of the village.

What to look for

In summer the heathery vegetation of the St Agnes cliff tops and the inland hill of the Beacon attract a wealth of butterflies such as the grayling, a brown-coloured butterfly distinguished by the black edges to its wings and the two white-pupilled spots on its fore wings. It feeds on wild thyme and heather and often perches on the rocks. Another butterfly to look out for here is the green hairstreak. It is golden-brown on its upper wings and distinctively green on its under side.

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