Mayon Cliff

Mayon Lookout

Mayon cliff is typical of West Penwith: wind-cropped heathland, lichen-encrusted boulders and ancient monuments. This precious landscape was acquired by the National Trust in three stages from 1935 to 1964, the first of these being a gift of 39 acres from the mysterious Ferguson's Gang.

The coastguard lookout

The views from the headland here stretch north to Cape Cornwall and south to Land's End, and take in the rocky reef known as the Longships. It's hardly surprising that this viewpoint should have served as a lookout and signalling site.

Sennen coastguard station was established in 1812, and the granite lookout was built in 1891. It was manned by coastguards living in the row of cottages at the foot of the hill. During the First World War, when German U-boats plagued this stretch of coast, local men were recruited as additional watchers. During the Second World War, the cliffs here weer used for training by the Marines, and they are still scaled by soldiers and rock climbers today.

The lookout was decommissioned in the 1940s and the station closed in 1953. For years the building became increasingly derelict, until 1997 when it was refurbished by the National Trust. You can now visit the lookout, it is open most days throughout the summer (weather permitting).

Maen Castle

Edged on three sides by high cliffs dropping sheer to the sea, the castle is protected on the landward side by a stone rampart and a ditch. Its original purpose remains a myster, although some have speculated it may have been a place of retreat in times of danger, a trading post, or a venue for important ceremonies. Excavations in the 1930s and 1940s show that the castle was built during the Late Bronze Age and continued to be in use in the Iton Age. In 1994, the National Trust completed a careful restoration of the stone entrance and the ramparts, improving public access to the site.

Lighthouses and shipwrecks

Standing at 35m (114ft) high, just over a mile from Land's End, the Longships lighthouse has been warning mariners of the treacherous rocks since it was erected in 1875. The keepers' families lived in cottages at Land's End, and wives could send semaphore messages to the men, who would signal back in front of the white-painted door. The lighthouse has been fully automated since 1988.

Of the many ships which have come to grief on the Longships, the SS Blue Jacket is the most notorious. On a clear November night in 1898, the steamer collided with the rocks, narrowly missing the lighthouse. The crew of 22 was rescued by the Sennen lifeboat, but the ship was a total wreck, and still lies on the sea bed.

Wildlife on the cliffs and out to sea

Walking along the cliffs you'll notice a variety of habitats which attract diverse wildlife to the area. Amongst the many butterflies and moths you'll see speckled woods, painted ladies, common blues and bright red-spotted burnets. On sunny days, keep an eye out for adders basking on rock outcrops or amongst the heather.

If you're lucky you might catch sight of a pair of choughs, as well as peregrines, kestrels and ravens that patrol the cliff face.

On calm summer days watch out for the twin black fins of basking sharks. The second largest fish in the world, growing up to 9m (29ft) in length, they are huge but harmless. Killer whales, fin whales and pilot whales have also been seen in these waters.

Bottle-nosed dolphins and schools of porpoises are regularly sighted along the coast andi n the fast currents around the Longships, where you might also see families of grey seals warming themselves on the rocks below the lighthouse.