Chapel Porth to Towan Cross walk
Chapel Porth, CornwallRoute details and mapDownload as a print friendly PDF
Explore the landscape of the Cornish coast from the secluded Chapel Porth to Towan Cross, and discover its rich history as a thriving mining industry.
- Bus stop
Start: National Trust car park at Chapel Porth, grid ref: SW698495
Start at the rear of the car park in the southernmost corner, just to the right of the cafe. Cross over the footbridge behind the cafe and follow the path inland up Chapel Coombe. You may want to visit the beach first, where at low tide you can see the boiler from the wreck of the SS Eltham, a steamer that was smashed up in a gale in 1928.
Chapel Porth in the late 19th century would have looked very different from today. It was a barren wasteland with pools and mounds of mining spoil, and sheds and wooden frames linked by channels of water. Much of the valley floor was used for the processing of tin ore, powered by water from the fast-flowing stream. By the 1920s the tin workings were derelict and Chapel Porth started to become popular as a beach resort, with a succession of small cafes.
Continue up the valley, keeping to the path. Beneath the gorse and heather the slopes are littered with mine shafts, wheel pits, spoil heaps and the ruins of dressing floors. You'll soon pass the South West Coast Path, heading uphill on your right. As the path curves round the slope, you'll see Charlotte United engine house come into view.
The engine houses, shafts and waste tips to the south of Chapel Porth were all part of a mining complex which produced around 23,000 tons of copper ore during the 19th century. Production of ore was sporadic and the mines opened and closed, often under confusingly similar names. Charlotte United, for example, was called North Towan and New Wheal Charlotte for most of its working life. It was only during its last brief reincarnation, in 1877, that it became Charlotte United.
As you pass just below Charlotte United, where the path crosses a small bridge, look for orange stains on plants and soil where iron hydroxide has washed down the old channels (adits) which carry water from the flooded mine workings. Follow the path through groves of willow, elder, blackthorn and sycamore.
The groves of willow, elder, blackthorn and sycamore at point 3 provide winter shelter for long-tailed tits, while wrens, warblers, stonechats and chaffinches hunt here in summer. You stand a good chance of seeing skylarks and meadow pipits flitting above the valley meadows and moor. At dusk, greater horseshoe bats emerge from their mineshaft lairs.
Continue on the path to eventually emerge onto the minor road near the hamlet of Mingoose. Turn right and follow the road to reach the junction opposite the Victory Inn. This pub dates back to the late 16th century and was a miners' haunt. It also provided refreshments to pallbearers, who would reputedly leave the coffin outside on the horizontal stone cross, long since vanished, from which Towan Cross took its name. Turn right at the junction, walk along the verge for 25m, then turn right onto the bridleway to Porthtowan.
Continue along the bridleway with views northward to St Agnes Beacon. The open heath here was once common land, and the area south of the Beacon is still known as Goonvrea ('goon' - unenclosed pasture, 'bre' - hill). Where the bridleway joins a wide stony path, turn right and walk towards the distant ruin of Great Wheal Charlotte.
In autumn, the heathland is a brilliant yellow-and-purple patchwork of western and European gorse, and heather. You can find four types of heather here - bell, cross-leaved, ling and Dorset - as well as tormentil and dwarf burnet rose. As you get closer to the sea and the exposed cliffs, the tall scrub gives way to stunted heath, pruned by the salty coastal winds.
Follow the path seawards as it crosses a bare expanse of yellowish mine waste. Even heathers can't grow here as the heavy metal content of the soil is too toxic, but look closely and you might find tiny lichens and mosses amongst the gravel, and the burrows of solitary mining bees. Open and filled-in mineshafts, covered with conical grids known as Clwyd caps, dot the landscape.
The solitary wall of Great Wheal Charlotte is the last surface relic of an important copper mine which produced 2,800 tons of ore in 1834-6. During the Second World War, American troops used the wall for target practice.
Continue along the path to reach the summit of Mulgram Hill. Descend from the summit down the wide track towards the car park. Built in 1944 by American troops stationed at St Agnes Head, the track is known locally as the American Road. It once crossed a wooden bridge (now demolished) which connected two earth banks in Chapel Coombe. When you reach the path at the valley bottom, turn left and return to your starting point.
Savour the views north along the cliffs to Wheal Coates and St Agnes Head. Keep an eye out for peregrine falcons, which nest on cliff-edges and hunt smaller birds. Rock pipits also breed along the rocky coast here, feeding on insects and seaweed along the shoreline.
End: National Trust car park at Chapel Porth
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- Trail: Walking
- Grade: Easy
- Distance: 2.5 miles (4km)
- Time: 2 hours
- OS Map: Explorer 104
Some narrow paths, rocky underfoot, and steep climbs, plus a short stretch along a minor road. May be muddy. Dogs welcome under close control. Please keep to the paths as the area is pitted with mine shafts. Be aware of dangerous cliff edges and unstable cliffs, and the risk of rock falls.
- How to get here:
By foot: On South West Coast Path and good network of paths from St Agnes village
By bike: National Cycle Network Route 3 passes through nearby Redruth and Truro
By bus: Services 85, 403 and 583 from Perranporth and Truro to St Agnes village; 315 from Redruth
By train: Redruth, 7 miles; Truro, 9 miles, then bus services to St Agnes
By road: take B3277 for St Agnes. At roundabout, at entrance to St Agnes village, turn left and follow brown tourist signs past the beacon to Chapel Porth
- Telephone: 01872 522412
- Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
- Website: http://www.nationaltrust.org.uk/st-agnes-and-chapel-porth/