SOUTH WEST COAST PATH NATIONAL TRAIL
Stage 36: Cape Cornwall to Pendeen Watch
Tuesday, June 2, 2015
The weather was much improved when I returned to St Just at around three oclock the next afternoon, having spent several hours learning about Cornwall's mining history at the nearby Geevor Tin Mine. There was still a strong wind blowing, but not quite as ferociously as it was the day before and, for a while at least, the sun was shining.
After a picnic lunch on the bowl-shaped medieval open-air theatre next to Bank Square in the middle of town (picture 1), I followed Cape Cornwall Road to a junction at the edge of town opposite the St Just Cricket Club. Rather than continuing to follow the road directly back to Cape Cornwall, I turned left and followed Carn Gloose Road on a more circuitous route in order to visit the Ballowell Barrow, which I had bypassed in the gale the day before.
The barrow (picture 2), which is 22 metres across and was originally as much as 4.5 metres high, is thought to date back to the Neolithic Age and may have been in use as a burial site well into the Bronze Age. It was excavated after being discovered under mining rubble in 1878. The remains of the barrow consist of two thick concentric stone walls and several small chambers, known as cists, and this is the only known barrow built to this design.
From the barrow, I followed the same path as the day before down to Priest's Cove on the southern side of the granite hump of Cape Cornwall (picture 3), where I had left the Coast Path the previous afternoon. I noticed a small tidal swimming pool cut into the rocky shore of the cove, while on the grassy slope above the cove I passed by half a dozen tiny fishing boats, which had been pulled up well out harm's way due to the rough seas that had been whipped up by the strong winds.
From the cove the Coast Path climbs some steps to the end of Cape Cornwall Road, turning left then soon forking right behind a house to find some rough stone steps that climb somewhat precariously up to the brick chimney on the summit of the cape (picture 4).
From the summit of Cape Cornwall there are good views southwards along the coast towards Sennen (picture 5) and northeast across Zawn Buzz to the next headland, which is topped by the ruins of the Iron-Age Kenidjack Castle (picture 6). The former view is part of the English Channel, while the latter was my first view of the Atlantic Ocean, as Cape Cornwall nominally separates the two bodies of water. After following the Channel Coast westwards all the way from Kent, this was also where I finally turned eastwards and it will be a little while before I find myself squinting while walking into the setting sun again.
A stone inlaid into the chimney bears an inscription explaining that Cape Cornwall was purchased by the Heinz company in 1987 and donated to the National Trust to mark the company's centenary.
From the summit, the Coast Path heads down another path to the mid-point of a long drystone wall enclosing a grassy meadow, following it to the left to find a stile in the corner. An obvious trampled path crosses the meadow diagonally, passing by the ruins of the tiny St Helen's Chapel (picture 7).
The path rejoins Cape Cornwall Road via a metal gate in the far corner of the meadow, opposite a National Trust carpark. About 100 metres up the road the path turns left onto an unsealed driveway, following it past a cottage before turning left again at a junction. The track now skirts the Cape Cornwall Golf Course, heading inland above the Kenidjack Valley, where there are numerous remains of the tin mining industry (picture 8).
At the end of the golf course, the track abandons the high ground and turns down to the valley floor, heading a little further inland towards a ruined beam-engine house before crossing the tiny stream that runs down the valley and turning back towards the sea. After about 100 metres the track forks and the Coast Path bears right, climbing up out of the valley, with good views back to Cape Cornwall (picture 9) before the path turns right for a steep scramble up to the ruins of a miner's cottage (picture 10) and the scant ruins of Kenidjack Castle just a little further on.
The route now follows a fairly level path for nearly a kilometre towards another cluster of engine houses and chimneys in various states of decay at the Botallack Mine (picture 11). Just before the first engine house, the Coast Path bears left at a fork in the path where I couldn't find a signpost. The path passes close to a couple of the engine houses, the first quite ruinous while the second is virtually complete, as the path curves around onto Botallack Head. Two more engine houses belonging to the former Crown Mine occupy a spectacular location, perched down near the bottom of the cliffs below the path (picture 12).
Like several of the mines in this area, the workings of the Crown Mine stretched out up to two kilometres under the Atlantic. The sea eventually broke though into the mine after its closure and the tunnels are now flooded to sea-level.
The path continues to follow the fairly level clifftops past more mining relics, eventually passing through the Levant Mine, now owned by the National Trust and site of one of only two beam-engines still in working order in Cornwall. Unfortunately it was already past closing time when I arrived so I didn't get to see the engine running. I did get to see the other one running a few days later however -- it can be visited at the East Pool Mine, near Redruth.
Another 500 metres along the coast is the Geevor Tin Mine, which I had visited that morning. The path passes to the seaward side of the large complex of mine buildings (picture 14), where ore bearing about one percent tin (known as cassiterite bought up from the 600-metre deep Victory Shaft was processed into a fine powder with a much higher concentration of tin before being shipped across to South Wales for smelting. Geevor was the last surviving commercial tin mine in Cornwall when it closed in 1990, no longer able to compete with cheaper sources of tin elsewhere. Tours of the site, which include venturing underground into older hand-dug mine tunnels, are guided by very knowledgeable ex-miners who were employed here before the mine's closure.
The path skirts around a large settling pool belonging to the mine before crossing a wooden footbridge and following a narrow, twisting path that gradually climbs up to the top of Boscaswell Cliff, where the lighthouse at Pendeen Watch comes into view up ahead (picture 15). The path heads a short distance inland along the side of a combe before crossing over and climbing back up to join the lighthouse's access road in front of a line of former Coastguard cottages. It is then about 500 metres walk along the road to reach the small carpark behind the lighthouse (picture 16), where I finished this short stage of the walk with just 7.5 kilometres covered.
It was about 25 minutes walk back along the road to reach the village of Pendeen, I had about half an hour to explore the village before catching a bus back to my accommodation in Penzance.