Cornwall is home to some of the most dramatic coastline in the UK, ranging from soaring cliffs and crashing waves to sandy beaches and pure turquoise water. Not only that, but many of the county’s most famous and photogenic landmarks are dotted along the coast. One of the best ways to see such sights is by walking – Cornwall is also host to a vast portion of the South West Coast Path, after all. In addition to its numerous health benefits (it’s a great way to burn calories without pushing yourself too hard), walking can also give you the perfect opportunity to stop for that all-important Instagram shot. Here are some of our favourite coastal Cornish landmarks and the best walking routes to see them on foot. (Image above: istock.com/RainbowJoe)
Taking their name from the Welsh Bos Rudhen, meaning ‘red-one’s dwelling’, the Bedruthan Steps are undoubtedly part of the most photographed piece of coastline in Cornwall. Sitting between Padstow and Newquay, the natural rock stacks dot a stretch of sandy beach and make for a wonderful bit of sight-seeing for those walking on the South West Coast Path. Legend has it the rocks are so named because they were used as steppingstones by a giant named Bedruthan to cross the beach.
There’s a moderate 4.5-mile (roughly 1.5-hour) circular walk from Carnewas car park that takes you past Bedruthan Steps and Redcliff Castle to the Pentire Steps and onward to Porth Mear before looping back through fields at Pentire Farm. Be warned that the coastal path often follows unfenced cliff edges so sturdy footwear is recommended, but the route offers spectacular views and allows you to see cliff castles and Bronze Age barrows that are thought to date from as early as 2500BC. The route is dog-friendly, but owners are asked to keep their furry friends on a lead when walking through fields, as there may be livestock grazing in them.
Sadly, the steps down to the tidal beach at the Steps are closed due to rock fall, but the path at Porth Mear brings you to a beautiful, sheltered cove filled with rock pools. Heading back, you’ll pass through a valley filled with reed beds, so keep your eyes peeled for a plethora of flora and fauna, including gorgeous butterflies and skylarks. There’s a National Trust shop and tearoom with toilets at Carnewas – perfect for ending the walk with a well-deserved cup of tea and a cake. (Image by George Cryer Photography)
The Wheal Coates tin mine ceased operating in 1889, leaving behind buildings that have since become some of the most iconic in Cornwall – hence why its most famous engine house, Towanroath, graced the cover of The Maverick Guide to Cornwall Volume 2. Built along the heather-covered cliffs outside St Agnes, the site is one of a select number of former mines that have been given UNESCO World Heritage status, placing it among the ranks of Machu Picchu and the Taj Mahal.
Given Wheal Coates’ proximity to St Agnes Beacon – itself a historical gold mine – the easy 2.8-mile circular walk from White Rocks to the beacon is the best way to take in everything this area has to offer. Starting from the White Rocks car park, you’ll follow the South West Coast Path with breath-taking views to the south past Porthtowan and Portreath to St Ives. The path takes you directly to the Towanroath engine house, where you can have a nosey at the remains of the 19th-century building, which housed the pumps that helped keep the mine dry.
If you’re in the mood for a hot drink or some ice cream along the way, the path takes you past the Chapel Porth Beach Café, which also serves food. Next, you’ll reach the summit of St Agnes Beacon, where you’ll find a topographic plate showing points of interest in relation to the hill. On your way back to White Rocks you’ll pass the site of a former WWII military base. The trail can be narrow and uneven at times with a steep climb up the beacon and you’ll follow a minor road for a short stretch, but this is a fantastic route for families with sure-footed children. (Image by George Cryer Photography)
What could be more fascinating than visiting castle ruins where the legend of King Arthur begins? Geoffrey of Monmouth believed Tintagel to be where Arthur was conceived, with later historians stating he was also born there, while a cave tunnelling into the cliff below the castle is thought to have been the home of the wizard Merlin. Whether you believe the stories or not, Tintagel Castle is undeniably one of England’s most distinctive castles, having been built on the dramatic clifftops and since split by erosion across the coast and a small island. Luckily, a new footbridge – itself a stunning example of architectural ingenuity – has reunited the two halves and created more level access for visitors with mobility issues. The area surrounding the castle is steeped in history, with archaeologists finding evidence of Roman and Celtic settlements dotted across the landscape.
A series of three circular walks provide routes that are suitable for families with kids of any age group, or for more avid hikers you can cut out the return legs of any of the shorter routes to create a longer 8-mile circuit. All three walks start at the car park across from the Old Post Office, a 600-year-old Cornish longhouse in the village of Tintagel. Each also takes you past Tintagel Castle, allowing you to add a stop to explore the ruins. The shortest walk – Barras Nose Circular – is steep in places but still suitable for pushchairs, while the other two – the Glebe Cliff/Dunderhole Point and Hole Beach circulars – are best suited for more confident walkers or those carrying their children. If you decide not to stop at the castle, there is a Visitor Centre in the village where you can learn about the history of the area and the archaeological finds. Wildlife lovers should also have plenty to see, as there have been sightings of seals on the coast and Peregrine falcons overhead. If you visit in the spring and summer you’re also sure to see plenty of colourful blooms along the way, including yellow Gorse, Sea Pink and Toadflax, among others. (Images ©English Heritage)
St Michael’s Mount
While it’s often confused with the French Le Mont Saint-Michel in Brittany, Marazion’s St Michael’s Mount is one of the UK’s most recognisable landmarks. The tidal island is named after the patron saint of fishermen, who is said to have guided seafarers to safety as they approached the rocks. Other legends say it was the home of the giant Cormoran, who stole cattle from local farmers and was slain by Marazion’s own Jack the Giant Killer. The island was later the site of a medieval Benedictine abbey and then a castle – the most current version of which is still lived in by the St Aubyn family. Today, it’s a popular spot for tourists and spiritualists, who believe ancient ley lines cross at the mount. Being situated on a slightly more level stretch of coastline, the area around Marazion provides the perfect place for walkers of any skill level to hit the trails.
One such circular walk clocks in at just over 5 miles and takes you from the streets of Marazion to fields lining the coast to the nearby Perranuthnoe Beach and then back via the South West Coast Path. If you’re keen to tie in a visit to St Michael’s Mount during your walk, be sure to check the tide times, as the island is only accessible by foot at low tide when the causeway emerges from the sea. Otherwise, you can catch a boat across.
The path back from Perranuthnoe provides ample opportunity to capture dramatic pictures of the island and Marazion with the rocky coast in the foreground – perfect for a cheeky Instagram brag about your holiday hike. There are plenty of quaint cafes, tearooms and pubs to stop at along the way if you’re so inclined, and Marazion has both long-stay and short-stay car parks if you’re not staying in town. If you park in the long stay, you’ll walk past the RSPB Marazion Marsh Nature Reserve, where you might spot majestic bitterns. (Image by Kernow From Above)
Lizard Point and Kynance Cove
Lizard Point – or the Lizard, as it’s known to some – is the most southerly point of mainland Britain and sits on a stretch of coast that features dramatic cliffs and picture-perfect coves. The area is a geological wonderland, famous for the serpentine rocks that have been used for many items in nearby Lizard, such as the pump handles in the local public house. About 2 miles up the coast you’ll find the tidal beach at Kynance Cove. Its white sand clashes with the vibrant turquoise sea to make it one of the most photographed areas of the UK. Be sure to check tide times, as the beach all but disappears at high tide and the water can be dangerous for swimming due to strong currents.
The Lizard and Kynance Cove are linked by the South West Coast Path for those looking for a there-and-back route, or there’s a 4.4-mile circular walk starting and ending at the town of Lizard. This moderate trail takes you to Lizard Point, where you can stop to explore the historic lighthouse with its distinctive twin towers, which still acts as a guide for ships after more than 250 years.
You’ll also pass an old lifeboat station at Polpeor Cove before following the coast past a shipwreck at Pentreath Beach and on to Kynance Cove. The return route takes you through heathland with stone stiles and back to Lizard. Along the way, you’ll get to see a huge number of different flowers and you might be lucky enough to spy birds such as chough, Peregrine falcons, ravens and even cormorants. Keep your eyes peeled for one of the many clifftop locations where you can stop for an Insta-worthy snap. (Image by Liam Alford)