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Wildflower Haven at Mullion

The heathland of the Lizard Peninsula supports some of the most remarkable of Britain's wild flowers.

Distance 7 miles (11.3km)

Minimum time 4hrs

Ascent/gradient 164ft (50m)

Level of difficulty Easy

Paths Good inland tracks and paths, can be muddy in places during wet weather. Coastal footpath, 21 stiles

Landscape Flat heathland and high sea cliff

Suggested map aqua3 OS Explorer 103 The Lizard

Start/finish SW 669162

Dog friendliness Dogs on lead through grazed areas. Notices indicate

Parking Predannack Wollas Farm car park (National Trust)

Public toilets Mullion Cove, 200yds (183m) up road from harbour

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1 Leave Predannack Wollas Farm car park by its bottom end. Follow the winding track ahead for just under ½ mile (800m) to where it ends at a gate. (Ignore a signposted track going off left just before this gate.) Beyond the gate, bear left to a stile. Follow the edge of the next field to a stile, then continue to open ground by a gate in a fence on the right.

2 Go over the stile next to the gate, then bear away at an angle from the fence along a path to reach English Nature's Kynance Farm Nature Reserve. Keep ahead towards distant buildings.

3 Watch for a gap in the hedge on the left, go through the gap, then cross the next field to reach a rough track. Turn right along the track for a few paces then bear off left and follow the edge of the scrub.

4 Go through a gate, then follow a track going right. Merge with another track, and then in a few paces, and just before a ford, bear off to the right along a track towards the coast (Kynance Farm is up to the right).

5 At a crossing with the coast path, go right and steeply uphill, then go over a stile onto the cliff top. Follow the coast path as it winds round the edge of the often projecting cliffs at Pengersick and Vellan Head.

6 Go left at a junction, just past a National Trust sign for 'Predannack'. (You can return to the car park by following the inland path from here.) Cross a stream in a dip and climb up left and continue along the coast path to Mullion Cove and Harbour.

7 Go up the road from Mullion Harbour and just beyond the public toilets and the shop, turn off right at a coast path sign. Keep to the right of the entrance to a holiday residential site and follow a track uphill. On a bend and just before a granite pillar, go off right and over a stone stile. Follow the path ahead through a grove of thorn trees and then through fields.

8 Pass a tall granite cross and then reach a lane and turn right along the lane towards the farm. Just before Predannack Manor Farm entrance, go left over a stile by a field gate, then turn right along the field edge. Go over a stile, then left along a hedged-in path, cross a stile and cross two fields to reach a lane (watch for traffic). Turn right to Predannack Wollas Farm car park.

The heathland of the Lizard Peninsula near Mullion lacks the rugged beauty of Cornwall's granite moors; its flatness seems a dull contrast to the dramatic sea cliffs that define its edges; the only punctuation marks are the huge satellite dishes of the nearby Goonhilly tracking station and the lazily revolving blades of modern wind turbines. Yet, beneath the skin, this seemingly featureless landscape is botanically unique and exciting, not least because the Lizard's calcareous soil is rich in magnesium and supports plants that are more often seen in chalk or limestone regions. The warming influence of the sea and the area's generally mild and frost-free climate encourages growth.

The Lizard's most famous plant is the Cornish heath, rare in Britain generally, but abundant on the Lizard. In full bloom it contributes to a glorious mosaic of colour, its pink and white flowers matched by the brilliant yellow of Western gorse and the deeper pinks of cross-leaved heath and bell heather. From the very start of the walk you are at the heart of the heathland. More common plants include spring squill, thrift and foxglove. Deeper into the heath are a variety of orchids including the rare green winged orchid, with its purple-lipped flowers.

Near the turning point of the walk you pass close to the old wartime Predannack airfield from where modern gliders soar into the air. Soon, the route joins the coast at Gew Graze, a feature that is also known as 'Soapy Cove' because of the presence of steatite, or soapstone. This is a fairly rare type of rock which was once used in the 18th-century production of china and porcelain. The final part of the route, along the cliffs to Mullion Cove, brings more flower spotting opportunities. On the path out of Gew Graze look for the yellow bracts and purple florets of carline thistle; the straw-coloured bracts curl over the flowerheads to protect them in wet weather.

Another remarkable plant is thyme broomrape, a dark reddish-brown, almost dead-looking plant that obtains its chlorophyll as a parasite growing on thyme. Such plants are often difficult to spot, whereas the smooth grassy slopes of the cliff tops near Mullion are a riot of powder blue spring squill, white sea campion and the yellow heads of lesser celandine and kidney vetch.

Where to eat and drink

There is a café at Mullion Harbour, the Porthmellin Café, serving full cooked breakfast, morning coffee, cream teas, crab sandwiches, ice creams and soft drinks. Open Easter to September.

While you're there

Spend some time at Mullion Harbour. The harbour dates from the 1890s and is built like a little fortress for the good reason that the cove's position on the eastern shore of Mount's Bay leaves it open to the most ferocious storms from the west and south west. This western coast of the Lizard Peninsula was always known as a 'wrecking shore', especially in the days of sail when vessels rounding the opposite 'horn' of the bay, Land's End, could easily become 'embayed' if they did not set course properly to clear the Lizard. Once embayed in onshore storms, a sailing vessel was easily driven ashore. Mullion Harbour gave shelter to pilchard, crab and lobster fishing boats.

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