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Merry Maidens and the Way Down to Lamorna

A coastal and inland walk from the picturesque Lamorna Cove, passing an ancient stone circle on the way.

Distance 6 miles (9.7km)

Minimum time 3hrs 30min

Ascent/gradient 558ft (170m)

Level of difficulty Medium

Paths Good coastal footpaths, field paths and rocky tracks

Landscape Picturesque coastline, fields and wooded valleys. 7 stiles

Suggested map aqua3 OS Explorer 102 Land's End

Start/finish SW 450241

Dog friendliness Dogs on lead through grazed areas

Parking Lamorna Cove

Public toilets Lamorna Cove

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1 From the far end of the seaward car park in the cove, at the end of the terrace above Lamorna Harbour, follow the coast path through some short rocky sections. Continue along the coast path past the tops of Tregurnow Cliff and Rosemodress Cliff.

2 Pass above the entrance ramp and steps to Tater du Lighthouse. Pass a large residence on the right and then, where the track bends right, keep left along the narrow coast path, at a signpost.

3 Descend steeply (take great care when the ground is muddy) from Boscawen Cliff to St Loy's Cove. Cross a section of sea-smoothed boulders that may be slippery when wet. Follow the path inland through dense vegetation and by the stream. Cross a private drive then climb steeply uphill. Go over a stile onto a track, turn right over a stile and follow the path through trees.

4 By a wooden signpost and an old tree, go sharply down right and cross the stream on large boulders, then follow a hedged-in path round left. In about 50yds (46m), by a wooden signpost, go sharp right and up to a surfaced lane. Turn left and follow the lane uphill. At a junction with a bend on another track, keep ahead and uphill. At Boskenna Farm buildings follow the surfaced lane round left and keep ahead.

5 From the lane, at the entrance drive to a bungalow on the right, the right-of-way goes through a field gate, then cuts across the field corner to a wooden stile in a wire fence. Beyond this, the way (there's no path) leads diagonally across the field to its top right-hand corner, where a stile leads into a large roadside lay-by with a granite cross at its edge. An alternative to the field route is to continue along the farm lane, and then to turn right along the public road, with care, to reach the lay-by.

6 Follow the road to the Tregiffian burial chamber on the right and then to the Merry Maidens stone circle. From the stone circle continue to a field corner, then cross over a steep stile. Follow a path diagonally right across the next field towards buildings. Go over a stile onto a road, then go down the left-hand of two lanes, a surfaced lane with a 'No Through Road' sign.

7 Where the lane ends keep ahead onto a public bridleway. Follow a shady and very rocky track downhill to the public road. Turn right and walk down the road, with care, passing the Lamorna Wink Inn, to the car park.

The coast at Lamorna, to the south west of Penzance, is one of the loveliest in Cornwall. This is a south-facing coast, protected from prevailing westerly winds although storms from the south and east can be merciless here, as witnessed by a bitter record of terrible shipwrecks over the years. The bare granite cliffs are enhanced by swathes of lush vegetation that turn the coast into something of a wild garden in spring and summer.

The walk starts from the hugely popular Lamorna Cove, once the scene of granite quarrying. The sturdy quay at Lamorna was built so that ships could load up with the quarried stone, but the swell and the tidal regimen made berthing difficult. Much of the stone was carried overland by horse and wagon to Newlyn Harbour and to Penzance. The coast path west from Lamorna winds its sinuous way through tumbled granite boulders, then climbs steeply to the cliff tops. It passes above Tater du Lighthouse, by jet black, greenstone cliffs, a startling accent in all these miles of golden granite although the upper parts of the greenstone are dusted with ochre-coloured lichen.

Soon the path descends steeply to the delightful St Loy's Cove, a secluded boulder beach where a brisk little stream pours out of a wooded valley. Spring comes early at St Loy; the sub-tropical vegetation through which the walk leads reflects the area's mild and moist micro-climate. From St Loy's woods you climb inland to reach two enthralling ancient monuments. The first is the Tregiffian burial chamber, a late Bronze Age entrance grave that was uncovered during road widening in the 1960s. The cup-marked stone is a reproduction, the valuable original is in the County Museum at Truro.

Just along the road from Tregiffian stands one of Cornwall's most famous monuments, the Merry Maidens' stone circle. This Late Neolithic/Bronze Age structure represents an ancient ceremonial and ritual site of major importance. Its popular name, appended by a much later superstitious society, refers to a myth of young girls being turned to stone for dancing on a Sunday. Later in the walk you can see two nearby standing stones, the mythical 'Pipers' who supplied the sacrilegious music. The true spirit of the stones reflects a far more intriguing ancient culture. The final part of the walk leads from the Merry Maidens to a wonderful old trackway that leads over water-worn stones into the Lamorna Valley along a route that may well have originated in the time of the stone circles themselves.

What to look for

If you do this walk in spring you will be treated to a genuine 'host of golden daffodils'. The cliffside paths are flanked by hundreds of daffodils that have spread from cultivated meadows. Until recent years, flower-growing was an important element in the small-scale market gardening carried out along this western coast of Mount's Bay. Another marvellous floral display is offered by the swathes of bluebells, found on the open cliffs and in the lush woodland behind St Loy's Cove.

Where to eat and drink

There are no outlets on the route, but there is a shop and a café at Lamorna Cove that serves drinks and food. The Lamorna Wink Inn a short distance inland from the Cove serves bar meals.

While you're there

Spend some time at St Loy's Beach, often claimed as one of the first places in Britain to enjoy rising spring temperatures. There's not a grain of sand but the boulder beach with its little tidal channels is a delight on a peaceful summer's day, although in south east storms the conditions here can be frightening. Just east of St Loy's beach at Boscawan Point, in a ferocious storm in December 1981, the locally-based lifeboat the Solomon Browne was lost with all of its eight crew. The lifeboatmen had made heroic efforts to save eight people, who also died, from the stricken vessel Union Star.

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