The history and legend of Bedruthan Steps

Discover a majestic and ever-changing coastline © National Trust

Discover a majestic and ever-changing coastline

Bedruthan Steps became a popular destination when Newquay developed as a holiday resort more than 100 years ago. Victorians visiting in their carriages found it a convenient attraction, and the local farmer responded to this interest by providing stalls for the horses on payment of a toll.

There's something very majestic about the view across the famous wave-swept stacks with the low, unspoilt plateau of Park Head beyond. The power of the earth’s natural forces is uppermost in the onlooker's mind and it is worth remembering that the outline of the stacks has changed in living memory.

Carnewas mine

Carnewas was a hive of industrial activity in the 19th century although not much is known of the mining that took place there. It is supposed that miners tunnelled into the cliffs from the beach in search of iron, copper and lead. Mining stopped many years ago, but the buildings are a reminder of this industry. The National Trust shop was once the count house or mine office and the café was also converted from mine buildings.

The legend of Bedruthan

The legend of a giant called Bedruthan using the beach stacks as stepping stones to achieve a short cut across the bay seems to be a late 19th-century invention.  No early reference to the story has been found and the truth is probably more prosaic.

The first recorded name of ‘Bedruthan Steps’ is in The West Briton of February 1847 and is likely to refer to the original cliff staircase.  It has been suggested that the place name ‘Bedruthan Steps’ was originally given to the staircase but has since been applied to the whole beach, and especially the distinctive stacks.

Changing coastline

The effect of the constant pounding of the sea upon the coastline means that the rocks are ever-changing, the softer rock eroding to leave the harder rocks in forms of islets or stacks. The rock known as Queen Bess Rock was named in Victorian times because of the likeness to Elizabeth I. Erosion in the years since has caused it to lose the head into the sea.

Providing access to the beach via a steep staircase has proved challenging over the years and since the 1960s there have been times when the stairs were closed as no safe route was possible.

In 1973 a generous benefactor gifted us £25,000 to rebuild the old cliff staircase.  However, by 1990 further fragmentation of the cliff made it necessary to close the staircase again. In 1995 it was re-opened following stabilisation work and the rebuilding of the 20ft of the staircase which had been washed away.