Skip to content

Discover Mayon Cliff

Land's End seen from Gamper, Mayon Cliff in West Penwith, Cornwall
Land's End seen from Gamper, Mayon Cliff in West Penwith, Cornwall | © National Trust Images/Sue Brackenbury

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

Saved by Ferguson’s Gang

The fun-loving and mysterious group of women who made up Ferguson’s Gang saved Mayon Cliff from the ‘Octopus’ of urban development and gifted to the National Trust in 1935, to look after into the future. Ferguson’s Gang gathered huge sums of money which they donated to the National Trust, an organisation they considered to be the most dedicated to preserving England’s heritage. The Gang wore masks to protect their anonymity and delivered their ‘swag’ in creative ways – inside a fake pineapple, cigar or accompanied by a bottle of homemade sloe gin. The stunts were avidly reported in the press capturing the public’s imagination.

‘Save me barrow, me old ring barrow,

Take it safe to the National Trust!

Save me castle, me old cliff castle,

Save us all from the Octopus’

- Bill Stickers, Fergusons Gang member

The coastguard lookout

The views from the headland stretch north to Cape Cornwall and south to Land's End, taking 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 were 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 mystery, 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 Iron 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 35 metres 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.

View from Mayon Cliff towards Longship's Lighthouse, West Penwith, Cornwall
View from Mayon Cliff towards Longship's Lighthouse, West Penwith, Cornwall | © National Trust Images/Sue Brackenbury

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 seabed.

Conservation Grazing

During the winter months (Oct – Feb) you may come across some Dartmoor ponies grazing the cliffs. This is often the most effective and natural way to maintain and improve certain habitats like heathland. The ponies do a fantastic job of nibbling and trampling encroaching scrub and coarse grasses meaning these more aggressive species don’t dominate the landscape.

Please do not approach or feed the ponies.

The ponies are wild animals, and we’d like to keep them that way. Please do not approach or feed the ponies and keep dogs on a lead around the ponies.


The hard work of the countryside rangers and grazing ponies keep the variety of habitats along Mayon cliff in good condition, 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 warm sunny days, keep an eye out for adders and lizards basking on rock outcrops or amongst the heather. After years of conservation and partnership work choughs are now a common sight and sound, 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 9 metres in length, they are huge but harmless. Dolphins, porpoise, seals, fin whales and bluefin tuna are also regularly sighted from the cliffs. Top tip for seawatching - keep an eye out for diving gannets and you may just see a fin or two surface the water.

Visitors exploring the gardens at Cotehele, Cornwall

Discover more in Cornwall

You can find exotic gardens, ancient houses and mining history encircled by a much-loved coastline.

You might also be interested in

A brick chimney stack at Cape Cornwall with the sea behind it

Things to see and do at Cape Cornwall 

From Brisons Rocks to the iconic chimney stack, coastal walks and variety of wildlife, there is lots to see and do at Cape Cornwall. See the waves of the Atlantic crash into the Tin Coast or seasonal wild flowers and meadows. Part of the Cornish Mining World Heritage Site.

A view down to the Botallack mines on the rocky coastline in springtime, Cornwall

Explore Botallack 

Explore the wild Tin Coast, part of the Cornish Mining World Heritage Site and see the iconic engine houses clinging to the cliff face.

Footsteps in the sand at Porthcurno beach, looking towards Logan Rock, Cornwall


Exceptionally beautiful beach on a turquoise bay backed by granite cliffs.

Porthcurno, Cornwall

Levant Mine and Beam Engine, Cornwall, on a sunny day

Visiting Levant Mine and Beam Engine 

Discover old mine buildings and a working steam-powered beam engine. See the wider natural landscape and wildlife that lives here.

Black and white photograph of three women sitting in the countryside drinking from glasses

Who were Ferguson's Gang? 

Read the story of some of the National Trust's most mysterious and unconventional benefactors and how two authors discovered more about their true identities.

A chough feeding near Lizard Point

Our work to care for choughs 

Find out how the National Trust is working to reverse the decline of the red-legged chough by recreating habitats where this characterful bird can thrive.

A visitor carrying a backpack and walking along a footpath at Divis and the Black Mountain with stone walls either side, the countryside visible in the background.

Follow the Countryside Code 

Help to look after National Trust places by observing a few simple guidelines during your visit and following the Countryside Code.