Cape Cornwall, Two Streams walk
A five mile walk in Cornwall’s far west, taking in its industrial heritage and an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, whilst also offering fantastic sea views and a visit to one of only two capes in Britain!
Start the walk in the car park at St Just, turning left down Market St and then left again in Bosorne Terrace. Follow the road past the chapel and recreational ground, through Carrallack and to the end of the lane. Here take a footpath on your right running between the fields and then along the edge of gardens to join the road down to Cot Valley.
The Cot stream, can be heard on your left but is often be hidden by greenery, especially in the summer months. Amongst the shrubs and spring flowers you might make out mining remains from the 1800s. Tin and copper ore was extracted from the rock by various methods of crushing and filtering. A stamping mill once stood near the bend, using water from the stream to drive the machinery to crush the ore. Closer examination will uncover pits for waterwheels, dressing floors and leats which carried the water to the wheels.
To visit Porth Nanven with its large egg shaped boulders, continue down the road to the bottom, passing lots more industrial history on the way, including near the bottom, the remains of an early 20th century tin processing works. After taking in the view you will have to retrace your steps back up the road to take a path on the left that twists up steps to meet the South West Coast Path. This climbs the north side of the valley amongst the waste dumps and open shafts of the mines. Most of the shafts have been made safe with fencing or stone walls, but you should still be careful if leaving the path.
To the right stands the chimney stack of a mine dating back to the 1860s and close by to it is Ballowall Barrow. A side path is signposted to what looks initially like a pile of stones, but is in fact a burial site dating back to the Bronze Age, around 4000 years ago. What a place to be buried! The views from this part of the walk are amazing with Land’s End away to the south, the Longships lighthouse, and on a very clear day, the Isles of Scilly.
Closer, but still offshore, sit the Brisons rocks, known locally as ‘General De Gaulle in his bath’. An important breeding site for seabirds, it’s a mile from the coast and the scene once a year of a swimming race from the rocks to Priest Cove below the Cape. The path now starts to descend down into the cove passing the Cape Cornwall golf course on your right. Old photographs show this whole cliffside here once covered in mine buildings (just two houses now remain) and below you are several shafts, including a couple that open out onto the cove.
Priest Cove on a calm day can be a wonderful place to explore, there’s even a small pool for paddling or swimming in. Fisherman’s huts cling to the cliff either side of the slipway and the aforementioned open shafts can be seen over to the left (but do not enter!). But with the chimney of the Cape taking centre stage at the moment, it’s time to climb up to it.
There are several paths leading up to the chimney, the most adventurous of which can be found by walking in front of the houses and following the path as it heads around the Cape, before scrambling up to the National Coastwatch station where volunteers keep an eye on vessels making their way up and down the coast. From the summit, views are even better, and if you can drag yourself away from the sea, turn around and take in Porthledden House. Built in the early 1900s by a Cornish miner who ‘did good’ in South Africa, it has in recent years been renovated at great cost and sold in 2016 for just under £3 million.
A building of a smaller type can be found in the field below the cape, roofless and with a cross atop its wall. Known as St Helen’s Chapel, there is some argument as the whether it’s a religious site or was just a barn for animals that has had the cross added to in later years? Leave the field and climb the road before turning left to follow the South West Coast Path as it passes the lonely white cottage Wheal Call, once the Count House for the mine that you will be overlooking as you continue along the path. Most of the mine workings lie in the Kenidjack Valley below, claimed to be one of the most industialised sites in West Cornwall. Look down into the valley, and notice below you, the building that once housed the second biggest waterwheel in Britain. Throughout much of the 19th century this would have been a very noisy and polluted valley, but it all came to an end in 1893 when a flash flood destroyed most of the workings. As was often the case in mining, water, much needed to power the machines and process the ore, was also a curse.
Continue along the path until you come to a turning on your left. Take this and follow it downhill into the valley bottom. The tall chimney and ruined buildings to your right were part of an arsenic works, which having been cleared and made safe, can now be explored. Arsenic was a byproduct of the mining, for a while very profitable, but a hazardous commodity. The chimney was supposed to carry the fumes away from the valley, but they must have gone somewhere!
Cross a bridge made from one giant slab of granite and head between tiny fields to a track. Turn left here if you wish to explore the mining remains you viewed from above earlier, including the huge structure built to hold a waterwheel to power machinery in the mines. To complete the walk you must turn right and carry on up the track. Like the Cot Valley, the stream here is often hidden by undergrowth, including the dreaded Japanese Knotweed, which the National Trust battle to control but is rife further up the valley. Introduced as a specimen plant to Kew Gardens in 1850, Victorian gardeners liked it because it grew everywhere and looked like bamboo. Nowadays it is classed as an invasive weed and it is an offence to cause it to grow in the wild.
Keep an eye out for the turning on the right (just before a row of tall cottages) which climbs up to Boscean where you pick up the lane back into St Just and its shops, cafes, galleries and pubs.
Walks length 5 miles (8km)
OS Explorer Map 102
Public Toilets in St Just and Cape Cornwall
Walk created by Walkaboutwest August 2020
For more great walks in the area, check out the Penwith Landscape Partnership website