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The Serpentine Route to Cadgwith

A wandering route between coast and countryside through the serpentine rock landscape of the Lizard Peninsula.

Distance 4.5 miles (7.2km)

Minimum time 3hrs

Ascent/gradient 230ft (70m)

Level of difficulty Easy

Paths Very good. Occasionally rocky in places. Rock can be slippery when wet.

Landscape Landlocked lanes and woodland tracks, coastal footpaths high above the sea

Suggested map aqua3 OS Explorer 103 The Lizard

Start/finish SW 720146

Dog friendliness Can let dogs off lead on coastal paths, but please keep under strict control on field paths

Parking Cadgwith car park. About 350yds (320m) from Cadgwith. Busy in summer

Ruan Minor and Cadgwith

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1 Go left along a grassy ride below the car park, to a stile. Continue over another stile, then branch right. Turn right at a lane, then on the corner, go up a track and continue to the main road at Ruan Minor.

2 Go left and, just beyond the shop, turn left down a surfaced path. Rejoin the main road by a thatched cottage (there are toilets just before the road). Cross diagonally right, then go down a lane past the Church of St Ruan.

3 Just past an old mill and a bridge, go right at a T-junction to reach the car park at Poltesco. From the far end of the car park follow a track, signposted 'Carleon Cove'. Go right at a junction.

4 Turn left at a T-junction just above the cove and again turn left where the path branches in about ¼ mile (400m) Continue along the cliff edge path to Cadgwith.

5 Follow a narrow path, signposted 'Coast Path'. By a house gateway, go left up a surfaced path, signposted 'Devil's Frying Pan'. At an open area turn left, pass Townplace Cottage, cross a meadow and reach the Devil's Frying Pan itself.

6 At a junction, just past a chalet studio, follow a path inland to a
T-junction with a rough track. Turn left and, at a public lane, go left again to reach the entrance to Grade church, after 1 mile (1.6km).

7 Follow the field edge behind the church, then cross the next field to reach a lane. St Ruan's Well is opposite diagonally left. Turn right for 200yds (183m), then branch off right between stone pillars to return to the car park.

The serpentine rock of the Lizard Peninsula is fascinating by name and by nature. Its geological label, serpentinite, is a word that fails to slither quite so easily off the tongue as does its popular usage 'serpentine'. The name derives from the sinuous veins of green, red, yellow and white that wriggle across the dark green or brownish red surface of the rock. The best serpentine is easily carved and shaped and can be polished to a beautiful sheen. In the 19th century serpentine furnishings were the height of fashion and the material was used for shop fronts and fireplaces. The industry declined during the 1890's however, due to the vagaries of fashion but also because the colourful, curdled stone of The Lizard decayed quickly in polluted urban atmospheres. Serpentine became less popular for use in shop fronts and monuments as cheaper, more resilient marble from Italy and Spain began to dominate the market. Today serpentine craftsmen still operate in little workshops on the Lizard and you can buy serpentine souvenirs at Lizard Village. Throughout this walk there are stiles built of serpentine; their surfaces are mirror-smooth and slippery from use. Admire, but take care when they are wet.

The walk first takes a fittingly wandering route inland to the sleepy village of Ruan Minor from where a narrow lane leads down to the Poltesco Valley. At the mouth of the valley is Carleon Cove, once the site of water wheels, steam engines, machine shops, storehouses and a factory where serpentine was processed. Only a few ruins remain. A narrow harbour pool, almost stagnant now, is dammed on the seaward side by a deep shingle bank where once there was an outlet to the sea. From here, during the heyday of Carleon's serpentine industry, barges loaded with finished pieces were towed out during spells of fine weather to cargo ships awaiting offshore.

From Carleon Cove the coast path is followed pleasantly to Cadgwith, an archetypal Cornish fishing village. Cadgwith has a number of thatched cottages, a rare sight in windy Cornwall, although coverings of wire-mesh on most of them indicate wise precaution against storm damage. Cadgwith still supports a fleet of small fishing boats and is given an enduring identity because of it. Beyond the village the coast path leads to the Devil's Frying Pan, a vast gulf in the cliffs caused by the collapse of a section of coast that had been undermined by the sea. From here the path leads on for a short distance along the edge of the cliffs before the route turns inland to the Church of the Holy Cross at Grade. Two fields beyond the church you find the ancient St Ruan's Well and the road that leads back to the start of this delightfully serpentine ramble.

What to look for

Water is often slow to drain on the soil of the Cadgwith and Lizard areas due to the impermeable nature of the underlying rock. This results in the development of many marshy areas known as wet flushes, that support moisture loving plants. There are several places where you should see the greater horsetail, an attractive, exotic looking plant that has long feathery branches and segmented flower stalks. On the coast proper look for the sturdy tree mallow, a tall plant with hairy stem and purple flowers.

Where to eat and drink

The Cadgwith Cove Inn at Cadgwith has a good selection of pub food including some tasty crab soup and fresh mussels as well as pasties, baguettes and pizzas. The Old Cellars Restaurant in Cadgwith is licensed and features the courtyard of an old pilchard processing 'cellars' right opposite Cadgwith harbour beach. Morning coffee, lunch, afternoon tea with tasty home-made cakes, and evening meal. Fish and seafood specialities.

While you're there

The Church of St Ruan is a small, endearing building built mainly of local serpentine stone. It has a low tower, as if bitten off by the notorious Lizard wind. The east window is dedicated to Thomas Richard Collinson Harrison, a 16 year old who died in a cliff fall in 1909. Grade Church stands on raised ground above flood-prone fields. It is a raw, but atmospheric building that can be satisfyingly gloomy and primeval on dull days, and at dusk.

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