Cornwall’s extraordinary landscape has inspired generations of artists and writers, including Dylan Thomas, Sir John Betjeman, Daphne du Maurier, Barbara Hepworth and Stanhope Forbes. And it’s easy to see why – its rugged shoreline, sandy beaches, turquoise waters, meandering rivers, attractive woodland and open countryside combine to form one of the UK’s most beautiful regions. The diversity of landscape along its 700km of mainland coastline also makes Cornwall one of the best places for walking. Whether you’re venturing into the lonely southeast corner of the Rame Peninsula; visiting beautiful towns and villages such as Fowey, St Ives and Padstow; enjoying the softer fringes of the Camel Estuary; experiencing the great cliffs of Cornwall’s northern coast; discovering the rugged joys of the Lizard Peninsula or gazing across a vast expanse of sea as you reach Land’s End, there are few better places to explore. Add to this an array of flora and fauna, some significant geology, striking architecture, and a history that extends back many thousands of years and you have the perfect walking destination.
Many of the cliffs along the Cornish coast are between 250 and 500 million years old. Granite forms the backbone of the region while other types of Cornish rock, such as serpentine, are found nowhere else in England. The importance of Cornwall’s geology is illustrated in its proliferation of Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) and tangible evidence can be seen at places like Land’s End, the Lizard Peninsula and Crackington Haven. Within these rocks can be found the tin and copper that provided the bedrock of Cornwall’s economy for many years. Around 10,000BC Mesolithic hunter-gatherers settled along the coastline around the Lizard and the higher ground of Bodmin. Some 4000 years later there was a marked increase in population with many fortified settlements and monuments built and hedges planted to enclose land for cereal crops. Cornwall’s natural tin and copper reserves began to be utilised in the Bronze Age and artefacts from this period have been excavated at Brea Hill, near Rock, and Gwithian Towans near Hayle. Iron Age Celts arrived around 600BC and were the dominant race of people for well over 1000 years. Fortified settlements from this period can still be seen at The Rumps and on Trencrom Hill near Carbis Bay. Perhaps the key moment in the county’s history came in 1201 when King John granted the tin miners of Cornwall a charter allowing them special privileges. The miners subsequently wielded considerable power, which emphasised how important tin and copper mining were to the Cornish economy. At its peak, mining employed about 30 per cent of Cornwall’s male workforce, and in the early 19th century the county was the world’s greatest producer of copper. In 2006 Cornwall’s mining areas gained World Heritage Site status; the remains of mine workings can be seen on several walks in this guidebook – particularly in the Kenidjack Valley near Cape Cornwall. A number of the beautiful towns and villages strewn across Cornwall (including St Ives, Mousehole, Gorran Haven, Port Isaac and Mullion Cove) were built around harbours, underpinning the value of Cornwall’s other key industry – fishing. The 17th, 18th and 19th centuries were a boom time, with millions of fish caught (especially pilchards) and ports flourishing at Falmouth, Fowey, Looe, Padstow, Penzance and St Ives. There are still many working harbours along the coast today, but on a smaller scale. With mining and fishing now playing a much reduced economic role, tourism has become vital to Cornwall’s economy and St Ives, Truro, Falmouth and Newquay remain the most popular destinations for the millions of annual visitors drawn to the region whose people were granted national minority status in 2014. Wherever you walk the views are enthralling, with buildings such as Godrevy Lighthouse and Truro Cathedral highlighting Cornwall’s wonderful heritage. Add to this an astonishing array of flora and fauna – bottlenose and common dolphin, porpoise, gannet, fulmar, cormorant, shag, kittiwake, razorbill, guillemot, puffin, Manx shearwater, chough, teal, greenshank, dunlin, bar-tailed godwit, curlew, oystercatcher, wigeon, heath spotted orchid, birdsfoot trefoil, yellow primroses, pink sea thrift and purple heather and you may well have, in Cornwall, the ultimate walking destination.
How to use this guide
The 40 walks in this guidebook are between 3km and 13km in length and are, therefore, ideal for a morning or evening stroll or an invigorating half-day ramble. The majority of the routes are coastal, although many run inland and through rolling countryside, woodland and alongside rivers. Much of Cornwall’s terrain is hilly, so fitness levels should be taken into consideration before setting out – some of the routes are much tougher than they may appear from the map. However, Cornwall’s network of public paths (including the spectacular South West Coast Path) means navigation is generally simple and the walking good – although any rocky, boggy or steep terrain is detailed in the route descriptions. Because of the path network, a number of the routes are child friendly. It’s advisable not to stray from the described routes onto farmland or near cliffs, and where livestock is present dogs must be kept on leads. Many beaches also have seasonal restrictions on access with dogs. A sketch map for each walk shows the main topographical details of the area and the route. The map is intended to give the reader an idea of the terrain and should not be relied on for navigation – the relevant Ordnance Survey (OS) map should be used for this purpose. Every route has an estimated round-trip time. This is for rough guidance only and should help in planning, especially when daylight hours are limited. In winter, or after heavy rain, extra time should be added to allow for difficulties underfoot. Some of the routes in this guidebook are challenging walks, while others cover remote terrain.
The weather in Cornwall can change suddenly, while strong winds – particularly along the coast and over higher ground – can occur throughout the year. It’s important for all walkers to be aware of the unpredictable nature of the sea while walking on or near Cornwall’s cliffs. All of this should be taken into consideration before commencing any of the walks described within this guidebook. Even in summer, taking some warm, waterproof clothing is advisable and footwear that is comfortable and supportive with good grips is a must. Do not rely on receiving a mobile phone signal when out walking, particularly away from built-up areas. Wherever possible, the start and finish for each walk is accessible by public transport, and if not there is car parking at or near the start. Most of the car parks mentioned in this guide charge for parking, though it is worth noting that National Trust members can park for free at around 70 National Trust-managed car parks across Cornwall.
The majority of the walks are also easily accessed from villages and towns where there are shops, eateries, accommodation and public toilets. Each route begins with an introduction detailing the terrain, the distance covered, the average time taken to walk the route and the relevant OS map. Public transport information is also included, although bus routes and timetables can change, so it’s best to check before commencing any of the walks in this guide (www.travelinesw.com). Please also note that although public transport in the area is fairly reliable, it may not run as regularly or as conveniently as necessary for the purposes of these walks. It is especially important to check the running times and departure points of any passenger ferries you intend to use.